Editorial: Why ASA will never be able to escape criticism

It's a thankless job but somebody has to do it. And that's just as true for advertising watchdogs as it is for football referees.

Certainly, the Advertising Standards Authority has lots in common with refs. Both have to make decisions that are applauded by some and derided by others. Both find themselves victims of heat-of-the-moment vituperation that turns out to be ill-judged once calm is restored.

This was the case last week when the ASA found itself in familiar territory between a rock and a hard place. First, the Advanced Medical Institute, the company behind the posters asking "Want longer lasting sex?", said it would refuse to accept an ASA ban on them. Meanwhile, Ladbrokes, convinced that the ASA has a sense of humour bypass, ran a mock public appeal to find the sole person who successfully persuaded the watchdog to outlaw a pair of its press ads.

Looking at both cases, it's obvious that the AMI decision was the easier call. An AMI senior executive describes the ASA's ruling as "bizarre". Even more bizarre is the company's decision to promote a product claiming to prevent premature ejaculation on such a catch-all medium as posters or that it should choose to ignore rules banning the advertising of prescription-only medicines to consumers.

The Ladbrokes verdict is more open to question. Two TV ads for Ladbrokescasino.com - one featuring a man skydiving with a crisp packet for a parachute - were ordered to be pulled because somebody complained they linked gambling to risk-taking and reckless behaviour.

Ladbrokes' condemnation of the decision as "political correctness going too far" may attract some sympathy. The ads are so far removed from reality that nobody could possibly take them seriously.

Whether or not the ASA has overreacted to lingering public disquiet about the relaxation of gambling laws is debatable. But so too is Ladbrokes' spoof public appeal. It might make company bosses feel better. Whether the public cares two hoots is another matter.

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