So, Lord Rodgers, chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority, a
former Labour Party stalwart and one of the Social Democrat ‘Gang of
Four’, wants clients not to choose agencies that have fallen foul of the
industry’s self-regulatory rules (Campaign, last week).
‘In considering pitches from agencies,’ he said, ‘advertisers would do
well to ask the degree to which the agencies in question have fallen
foul...of the codes and whether, indeed, they regularly check their copy
against them.’ In other words, clients like the Norwich Union, Cadbury
Schweppes or Procter and Gamble should not be giving their business to
an agency like Saatchi and Saatchi, creator of the banned Club 18-30
This is a naive view. Yes, agencies cannot be absolved of the blame, but
responsibility for a banned ad must rest equally with the client as with
the agency. Clients, remember, sign off ads too. Nor must we forget that
many clients are adept at courting the media publicity - some even plan
for it - that stems from a ban. So did Rodgers mean instead to say that
agencies should refuse to work with clients whose ads have been banned?
Whatever he meant, this attitude wouldn’t solve the problem.
Which brings us to the second part of Rodgers’ speech to the Self-
Regulation 1995-2000 seminar. Agencies that deliberately broke the codes
for publicity and challenged or ridiculed the ASA were, he said,
‘playing with fire’ and raising the possibility of statutory regulation.
Here, you might think, Rodgers is on surer ground. But what evidence is
there to suggest the problem is worse today than three or five years
ago? In fact, he might do better to look at the causes rather than the
symptoms. Despite what he says, the ASA is held in high esteem by the
industry and envied by other countries - rightly so. The answer, if he
thinks there is something wrong, is to make it work better, not to
abandon it to outsiders.