I’m probably on dodgy ground asking any of you to conjure up sympathy
for the Advertising Standards Authority, but a toothless ASA
confronted with the sight of the Kelvin monster in its terrible glory
(Campaign, last week), is not exactly a fair fight.
We can all have a chuckle about Live TV’s ads featuring Princess Diana
‘kissing’ Paul Gascoigne and Will Carling; we can dismiss it as a
publicity stunt by a desperate MacKenzie; we can laugh off the Royal
Chamberlain’s intervention, and even Princess Diana complaining about
media manipulation of an image, but we’re still left with a toothless
The advertising and media industries must decide what they want from
their self-regulatory bodies. This applies to the Broadcast Advertising
Clearance Centre too, which is subject to a lot less public griping and
controversy, for the obvious reason that it is a pre-vetting system and
so much of the debate takes place privately. The most oft-voiced
question concerning the BACC is: does it exist to serve the interests of
the public, or ITV’s larger advertisers? By and large people accept that
it does do a job - the problems with that job revolve around whether the
agency concerned agrees with the particular decision taken or not.
Compare this with the ASA. As our analysis this week makes clear (page
12), it is not only circumnavigated by ad agencies, but deliberately
abused to achieve the very thing that it is set up to help prevent:
greater exposure. The examples are innumerable, Club 18-30 and Benetton
being merely the most high profile of late. It is not the fault of the
decent and hard-working people who are employed there, and who do as
good a job as possible given the constraints, but the fault of the
system that has created those constraints.
Time and again we’re told that it is unworkable to devise a process by
which every press and poster ad is vetted in advance. And, of course, it
would be difficult. But it’s not impossible if everyone wanted it to be
that way. Perhaps we should look at the question from a different
perspective. Not how difficult would it be to set up a pre-vetting
system, but, is it meaningful to persist with a system where the
judgments are taking place long after the ads break and often after
their run has finished? The current system often results only in the
generation of yet more publicity for the ‘offenders’.
The existing situation cannot continue. At the very worst, public
pressure will force the government to intervene. The idea that agencies
should vet themselves, voiced in Campaign recently by Alastair Ritchie,
is too preposterous for words. Does advertising really believe an over-
indulged bunch of twentysomethings in Soho can act as the arbiter of
taste and decency for the nation? And News Bunnies might fly.