Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Advertising Standards Authority's batty decisions

Friend & King
Dear Mervyn King President of the Advertising Standards Authority,
        As a former Judge I thought you would be the best person to explain how your Authority (ASA) can come to two different decisions on virtually identical facts.
BAT's billboard - sorry wrong pic
         Last year complaints were made to the ASA that British American Tobacco (BAT) was using a clever ploy to bypass the law that bans tobacco advertising in South Africa. It had billboards on major highways exhorting people not to buy illegal cigarettes. They carried the fearsome warning that this may fund hijackers and armed robbers.
        Your ASA sidestepped the real issue and latched on to the bit about hijackers and robbers. It ordered that the ads should be pulled because BAT could not prove that this was true.
         Fast forward to this year and it had a complaint from Charles Maggs, myself and Tom Kallis. A small point perhaps, but both these gentlemen were given the title of Mr while I was just plain Jon with both my first and surnames spelt incorrectly
        I suppose you can’t expect Watchdogs to be given a title can you?
        Great minds evidently think alike as we all felt that BAT was at it again (see Smoke & Mirrors – cigarette adverts by another name on my blog); this time by putting an advert, similar to the billboard ones, in newspapers.
         BAT did its best to spread alarm once more by telling readers that over R3-billion was lost in tax revenue (it forgot to mention the billions lost through the devastation cause to people’s lives by smoking) because people bought contraband cigarettes.
It then warned: But the price you could pay when smuggled cigarettes bring crime syndicates into your neighbourhood may be far, far higher.
       Was this message any different to the one on the billboards? Could BAT substantiate this statement?
         No, of course it couldn’t.
       Yet this time your ASA didn’t bother about this aspect in dismissing our complaint completely.
It made matters worse by waffling on about having taken into account its Code of Conduct which stipulates that Advertising should not contain anything which might lead or lend support to criminal activities, nor should they appear to condone such activities.
       It then pathetically revealed that as it was not its job to decide on the legality of adverts of this kind it was best to pass the buck to the Department of Health that administers the Tobacco Products Control Act.
Dying for a fag
         Well, as we all know that Department has been very successful in running every public hospital in South Africa into the ground, so it’s hardly likely to be bothered about questionable cigarette ads.
BAT’s answer to the complaint was that is was not promoting smoking. Heaven forbid that a tobacco company should do that. And the campaign did not advertise its products. No, only its name British American Tobacco, which in itself advertises tobacco.
         What’s the point of such a week kneed ASA if it can’t even make a ruling in accordance with its own Code of Conduct?
         Surely at the very least the BAT newspaper ad might have supported illegal activities (advertising cigarettes) and it certainly appeared to condone such activities otherwise the three of us would not have complained.
         So didn’t the ad fall well within the ASA’s definition of what Advertising should not contain?
             Just asking,
         Yours faithfully,
         Jon, Mr to the ASA, the Consumer Watchdog who doesn’t win them all, but that doesn’t stop him snapping at heels CONTINUOUSLY.

Buy my book 'Where have all the children gone' on Amazon Kindle  It's a thriller with an underlying love story that defied generations of Afrikaner/  English prejudice.

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