Self regulation on trial as ASA faces challenges from MPs on obesity and ticketing

The Advertising Standards Authority is having to fight its corner more and more these days, as the obesity crisis and #MeToo bring many of the issues facing society – and therefore advertising – into the spotlight.

As the nation gets fatter and codes on gender stereotyping have yet to be applied, self-regulation is looking toothless and tardy.

Now ticket reseller Viagogo is flouting the ASA’s authority. The Geneva-based firm advertises tickets at one price, but keeps adding fees as the customer goes through the purchase journey, often adding hundreds of pounds to the final cost.

The ASA warned Viagogo to take action in March, but the company has failed to make its fees “sufficiently clear” by the 26th May deadline and Digital Minister Margot James has had to step in and tell consumers not to use Viagogo.

The health select committee is also attacking the ASA today, with a new report calling for a ban on all TV junk food ads before 9pm and a veto on cartoon characters in ads for unhealthy food.

The ASA’s stand on self-regulation is firm. A recent report from the watchdog insisted that children’s exposure to all TV food ads is around 40 per cent lower now than it was in 2010. Online, rules for targeting children were tightened up last year and the ASA claims that “the new restrictions seem to have landed well.”

But can the ASA fight the combined power of Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, the TV chefs who are waging a very public battle against advertising foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar?

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has also undermined the ASA by taking his own stand against junk food and gender stereotyping; he has banned ads across the London Transport network in a move that undermines the ASA’s powers.

It’s a tough time for the ASA and its CEO Guy Parker. As shifts in society bring advertising under attack from all sides, the watchdog needs to tread a fine line between defending its position and its raison d’être – that self-regulation works – and listening to criticism of the status quo.

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