UK ad complaints show the ASA is a good regulator

The UK Advertising Standards Authority was introduced 40-odd years ago as a system of self-regulation paid for by a small tax on media spend.

At the time it was regarded by advertising’s opponents (and they had a case) as just a way of kicking a problem into the long grass.

But in the intervening years the ASA has done a brilliant job of censuring (as opposed to censoring) advertisers who think they can belabour or deceive the public. Even noted head-bangers like Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary seem to have given way (reluctantly) to its elegant judgements.

This list of the most complained-about ads of 2009 is interesting, not least because top of the list comes an assertive Christian campaign produced in response to a few mild bus posters by agnostics saying there isn’t a God, so don’t worry about it.

But there were only 1204 complaints about this and the ASA’s sensible response was, ‘get on with it.’

In the top ten a couple of complaints were upheld, one against an Israeli government tourist map that pretended that the West Bank and Gaza were parts of Israel (they’re not) and another from a bunch of hucksters called The Advanced Medical Institute that offered men ‘longer lasting sex.’

The latter may have been ruled against because the AMI couldn’t do what it said or the ad was just gross. Either way it was a common sense decision.

So the ASA shows that light touch regulation, in some businesses anyway, can work.

And British advertising is much the better for it.

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