So, we’re sitting in the dark, judging the 1997 Campaign poster
awards, generally agreeing that it’s a vintage year and that the medium
is the hottest around in terms of creative standards. I can’t list the
brilliant work because that would give away the winners. However, we can
talk about ’fcuk fashion’, because we emerged blinking into the sunlight
to discover the Advertising Standards Authority had upheld the nine
complaints against it from members of the public who had spotted
astutely that the line might be a play on the word ’fuck’. As you will
all know, this means instant disqualification from Campaign awards.
Whether ’fcuk fashion’ would have won is not really the point. We did
spend a great deal of time discussing it as among the more noticeable
and intriguing of poster campaigns over the past 12 months. Whether this
was because we had read about the posters in the press or seen them in
the flesh is also irrelevant - exploiting this symbiotic relationship
between advertising executions and editorial coverage is one of the
challenges of advertising in the 90s.
To me, the most thought-provoking issue of the whole affair is the ASA’s
role - yet again - in promoting an ’unsuitable’ message that it is, in
theory, there to protect us from.
I’m sorry to adopt my curmudgeon-at-the-party guise yet again but, amid
the current general love-in to celebrate the ASA’s 35th birthday, should
there not be time to contemplate its role in furores such as this and
Benetton, Club 18-30 and Wonderbra? How consciously, one wonders, are
creative teams sitting there devising work that will, eventually, fall
foul of the ASA? That is, once the posters have been up long enough to
attract press outrage at their content, and breathless articles asking
how the ASA let them by (conveniently ignoring the fact that print ads
aren’t pre-vetted). When, a month or so later, the press reports that
the ASA has judged against the offending ads, client and agency enjoy
yet another burst of publicity and the posters can come down having
reached the end of their paid-for life anyway.
I’m not trying to knock the ASA, honest. If anything, I’d like to see
its powers extended to include some sort of pre-vetting function or, at
the very least, have some genuinely punitive measures at its disposal to
deal with offenders. I know this is at odds with the views of many in
the industry, who have enough problems as it is with the Broadcast
Advertising Clearance Centre, but I don’t feel that it is at odds with
the views of the general public. They assume - wrongly - that such
mechanisms already exist. As for our new Government - there aren’t many
votes to be lost in imposing legislation on the ad industry. Adland
alone will be surprised when it happens.