ASA hits the right note as it tries to rebuild trust in ads

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has been regulating ads for over 50 years now. At first it seemed rather a lost cause as an unruly industry largely ignored it but since then it’s become established as a mostly sensible way to keep wayward adland in check.

At times it seems rather like a business version of football’s VAR, making an undue fuss of tiny infractions that shouldn’t really matter – like ruling against ads with just a few or even a single complaint – but rules are rules. Legal, decent, honest and truthful isn’t a bad one.

Life’s much more difficult now with online of course, as the content factories turn these out by the ton. The trouble with trying to enforce rules on these, as with others, is that by the time the ASA pronounces the campaign has probably finished. But it’s a slap across the wrists for the advertisers involved, which most pay attention to.

There are much bigger problems than errant ads with online, of course: tracking and privacy chiefly. Can any online companies be entirely trusted, even Apple which claims to eschew such evil practices? But that’s not, largely, the ASA’s problem.

It’s currently running a new campaign from Leith and MediaCom Scotland, promoting its work and claiming that the numbers show that people who’ve seen the campaign have more trust in advertising. Neatly sidestepping the issue of whether they’re right to do so. A number of high profile brands are supporting it, including Tesco which recently got a rap from the ASA for greenwashing.

And here’s the justification.

ASA CEO Guy Parker says: “We’re excited to be working with some of the best-known brands and having fun with their famous straplines to help us raise awareness across the UK of our work in regulating ads to keep them legal, decent, honest and truthful.

“We know that trust in the ASA system continues to be a driver of trust in the advertising industry as a whole, so it is important we roll out our campaign across the UK to further increase awareness of the vital work we do to protect people from misleading, harmful or offensive advertising, wherever it appears.”

Advertising Association CEO Stephen Woodford says: “This new phase of the ASA’s advertising campaign is a vital next step in our efforts to rebuild public trust in advertising, a critical factor underpinning our industry’s economic and social contribution.”

Rebuild because trust in ads dropped back fairly recently, probably due to the online tidal wave. But this campaign is nicely judged, rational in an irrational age.

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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