Opinion: Perspective - I'd like to complain about the complaints culture

All this consumer empowerment, look where it's got us: 26,433 complaints, for goodness sake.

About 15,556 ads. That's an average of less than two complaints per ad. Haven't these people got anything better to do with their time? In 2008, the Advertising Standards Authority received the most complaints since its inception in 1962. We've become a nation of whingers. Or rather we've become a nation of people who think our opinion deserves to be heard.

Perhaps it's counterproductive to make an issue of it. After all, the ad industry desperately needs to retain its self-regulatory remit. So we should welcome all complaints and treat them all fairly, thoroughly, responsibly. But come on.

There are more complaints, of course, partly because it's easier to complain. If you wanted to complain in 1962, and most of the subsequent years until the arrival of e-mail, you had to write a stiffly worded letter and keep your fingers crossed it was actually received, read and considered.

The rise of the telephone made things easier, but still involved a degree of time and expense that helped to sort the genuine complaints from the idle gripe. But now that we can e-mail the ASA to vent our ire, it's so easy: heck, why not?

Yet our complaining culture is not simply a result of an effortless system for lodging dissatisfaction. It's also a result of the cult of the individual, the growing sense of our own importance and a growing belief in the wider significance of our ideas and opinions that has been nurtured by the digital revolution.

We're all blogging, Tweeting, telling everyone we know as often as we can what we think and feel about everything. And, of course, we all assume everyone's interested in this digital diarrhoea.

The media has helped drive this sense of importance, falling over itself to encourage comment from audiences and, in turn, eagerly using this wealth of opinion as fresh content (which the audience is invited to comment on, creating a terrifying cycle of comment on content on comment that might never end).

Oh, I know all this explosion in consumer comment has the potential to improve our world and right wrongs, exposing corruption and inadequacy and forcing though a greater concern for the greater good. But it can also be dangerous by empowering individual voices that would otherwise float away on the wind.

Anyway, this, I think, is the context in which we should look at the ASA's stats and the near 10 per cent rise in complaints. More ads are not more offensive - the ad industry has an extremely robust pre-testing system in place to make sure that's not the case. But, I think, we are complaining more because we're convinced that what we think is important. Sometimes, really, it isn't.

So, after nine months, one dithering near miss and an undoubted brake on momentum, TBWA has finally found its man. For an agency that was in danger of appearing desperate, TBWA has made a sound choice. Mark Hunter has nurtured some great work at Euro RSCG, now he's off to try to do the same at TBWA.

Even after the falterings of the past few years, it's easy to see why Hunter was drawn to the job (I mean beyond the rumoured largess of the salary).

TBWA has a mission to become one of the ten most creative companies in the world (not just in the advertising world, mind). Unlikely, I'd say, but there's no doubt that the network has managed to retain a creative impulse in its DNA while so many other networks have lost that impetus (or, perhaps, never had it).

The London office has a disproportionate responsibility to enshrine that creative proposition and has to make a disproportionate contribution to the network's creative showcases. It's been quite a while since TBWA\London did that; Hunter can't join soon enough.

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