Advertisers not amused by shock-tactic merchants
MEDIA & MARKETING:There was a strong “not angry, just disappointed” flavour to an Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland seminar on responsibility this week.
The advertisers being shamed, but not named, were the repeat offenders, the deliberate shock-tactic merchants who on occasion have made a mockery of the ASAI’s code of practice, threatening to spoil the self-regulation party for everyone else. The ASAI is not about to let sleeping Hunky Dorys lie.
Bairbre Redmond, the non-industry chairwoman of the ASAI’s complaints committee, separated these deliberate breaches of the code from the more common accidental kind, “though I would say the excuse of ‘We had a new girl on that day who didn’t understand’ has been slightly overused”, she drily qualified.
The minority of intentional code-breachers generated responses from the public that suggested they hadn’t just let themselves down – they had let the whole industry down. Redmond read out some of these responses. You can guess the advertisements being complained about.
“This campaign has nothing to do with the product. I would have thought that things would have moved from that by now,” read one. Hmm, that sounds very much like . . .
“The message here is to portray anyone that complains as overly PC, boring and over-sensitive with no sense of humour,” was another. Again . . . “It’s a cheap ploy to gain notoriety.”
Well, let’s just say there’s more than one suspect for that particular review.
Hitting the ASAI where it hurts were these observations about second-time offences: “I simply cannot believe that the ASAI let this advertisement be published” and “Why were they allowed to make a comeback when these ads were banned last year?”
The ASAI is clearly not amused by the “huge danger” such cynical advertising does to public confidence. Self-regulation won’t work if there is “weak and fractured” support from the industry it is supposed to be regulating, Redmond noted. (For the sake of accuracy, advertising is not totally self-regulated in Ireland, as there are aspects of co-regulation in relation to misleading consumer practices and alcohol marketing as well as statutory rules on broadcast advertising.)
“From the outsiders’ point of view, keep what you have, because it is very precious,” Redmond nevertheless concluded.
She may have been preaching to the converted. The room was packed with large advertisers and senior media executives, who clapped warmly as Glanbia Consumer Foods chief executive Colin Gordon bemoaned the “standards, what standards?” crowd.
“Just as I hate to see any food scares for any food brand, because it’s bad for the whole industry, then one bad communication is damaging to us all,” said Gordon (speaking before the news headlines added that delightful word “horseburgers” to our vocabularies).
Perhaps there are some irresponsible-and-proud advertisers and agencies who will flock to a seminar called Responsibility in Marketing Communications on a know-your-enemy basis, but if they were at this one, they were keeping quiet. No one raised their hands to say “well, actually, we think the ASAI has been well harsh, and anyway, responsibility in advertising is an oxymoron ”.
The ASAI has both the power and the plans to do more than just make general verbal lamentations or add a scathing paragraph or two to the most galling case studies in their complaints bulletins.
A kind of statutory backstop arrangement with the National Consumer Association, whereby the two bodies consult with each other about companies that engage in systematically misleading advertising, is already informally in place and will soon be formalised.
The ASAI is reluctant to fine its voluntary members – “you have to be realistic”, says chairman Ed McCumiskey – but it argues that forcing advertisers to dump expensive ad campaigns before the end of their natural life is an adequate punishment. Chief executive Frank Goodman says he is aware of upheld complaints that have threatened people’s careers due to the cost of lost production and that one case last year resulting in the pulling of a €500,000 campaign. Demanding copy clearance is another awkward sanction.
The ASAI is also reaching out to media groups for their co-operation in not accepting ads against which it has upheld complaints, even though this kind of gatekeeper role, McCumiskey acknowledged, is often against their own interests.
“We don’t expect to be loved,” says McCumiskey. “No regulator doing its job properly can ever be.”