- Special interest groups are going to unprecedented lengths to get industry watchdogs to ban ads they find objectionable, resulting in a deluge of complaints against a small number of ads during 1997, according to new figures from the Advertising Standards Authority.
Of the 10 most complained about ads last year, three were catapulted up the table by campaigns generated by organised lobbying groups, the ASA's annual report says. This compares with one ad in 1996 and none during 1995.
But ASA officials warned lobbyists this week that sheer weight of complaints alone would never force them to demand an ad's withdrawal.
"It's quality of complaints that count, not the volume," an ASA spokesman said. "Pressure groups will not get very far unless they realise that we deal in facts, not opinions."
The ASA's position was reflected in its throwing out of 94 complaints from shooting supporters -- the most provoked by a single campaign last year -- against two Saatchi & Saatchi posters calling for a ban on .22 calibre handguns after the Dunblane massacre.
The issue also produced 56 complaints against a Delaney Fletcher Bozell cinema ad for the Gun Control Network featuring a handgun being fired into a human-shaped target. These complaints too were rejected by the ASA.
Overall, complaints fell by 11 per cent to 10,678 in 1997 from 12,055 the previous year, with 512 ads having been found to break the rules.
At the same time, the number cases of advertisers and media owners seeking advice from the ASA before running ads rose by 1,000 to 11,500 last year. "There seems to be more concern about getting ads right rather than just being controversial," an ASA executive said. "Maybe it's a reaction against the one-hit wonders."