Will Office of Fair Trading axing makes life easier for UK advertisers and agencies?

The Office of Fair Trading is to be axed after forty or so years and its supervisory duties will be rolled in to the Competition Commission, to which it refers issues it thinks need investigating anyway.

So quite sensible then although critics point out that the CC deals with very big things so the OFTs demise will mean that smaller issues don’t get deal with. Historically these have included many advertising and marketing matters.

The OFT was set up by Labour in the 1970s when advertising in the UK, which was hardly regulated at all, was a highly contentious issue with many loud voices in favour of draconian legislation to curb the activities of those evil and, sometimes, ‘hidden persuaders.’

The OFT, under Sir Gordon Borrie, took charge of this and, among other things, helped to set up the Advertising Standards Authority to rule on contentious ads. This was paid for (and still is) by a voluntary levy on media owners.

And, despite the odd silliness and spot of bother with pregnant nuns, is has done a sterling job since and has proved a much better outcome for the industry than a legal framework at the mercy of MPs would have been.

One presumes the ASA will survive the coalition government’s ‘bonfire of the quangos.’ The removal of the OFT will also make it more difficult for people to obstruct advertising, marketing and media initiatives they disagree with.

But the OFT, from an advertising perspective, did work. The fear must be that something more disagreeable might one day take its place. Possibly after the next election in four years.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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