Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Advertising Standards Authority's bungling, bunglers

Dear Investors,
CEO Msibi
         The South African Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is there to police the advertising industry. But in my experience it is a toothless and an extremely incompetent organisation, staffed by people who haven’t a clue about what they are doing.
         What’s more it advertises its inefficiency on its website with an out of date 2007/8 Annual Report.
         My complaints to it were relatively simple. I will deal with them in two parts.
         Part 1 concerned three small ads that appeared in the Sunday Times towards the end of 2011. They contained unbelievable, get-rich-quick promises that so often dupe pensioners and the less well off into losing their life savings.
         Since 2009 I had been campaigning (See: Noseweek exposes Dearjon letter) to get this paper to stop running these ads (see example) as I believed that by doing so it was helping crooks to fleece people. 

         But as my efforts had so far been unsuccessful I decided to try and get the ASA to rule against these ads.
         I had every reason to have confidence in the ASA as it maintains that it regulates all advertising and that all advertisements should be legal, decent, honest and truthful.
         Another of its impressive claims is that no advertisement should bring advertising into disrepute or reduce confidence in it.
         What happened after that was hard to believe. The ASA itself blew my confidence in it sky high and made nonsense of its boast that it was there to ensure that all ads are honest and truthful.
         30/1/2012: Leon Grobler: Manager Dispute Resolutions confirmed he had received my three complaints and added that if an ad appeared in a newspaper they were empowered to have it removed even if the advertiser refused to do it himself.

I'm sure you've heard the expression, 'If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.' Well in the investment world, I say, 'If it sounds too good to be  true, it definitely is.'
                                                                                 1997 Washington Times

         3/2/2012: Phumzile Mhlonngo: Adminstrator Complaints Assessment, emails me with these reference numbers 19581, 19581 (should have been 2) and 19583 and this nonsensical statement: We note that your complaint refers to a Sunday Times advertisement. Please note that the ASA deals with and investigates specific advertisements.
         She went on to say they couldn’t investigate my complaint because I had not made it clear as to why I thought the ad was misleading and not true. I then sent a revised complaint.
         7/2/2012: Lindiwe Hlatshwayo tells me they are proceeding with their investigation.
         29/2/2012: A very official letter arrives signed by Puseletso Mahlangu, Consultant: Dispute Resolution, telling me among other things that my complaints, with the same numbers as I had originally been given, had been sent to the advertisers for written comment.
         Part 2: This concerned the Sunday Times’ own WARNING ad (see example) that it carried next to the get-rich-quick ads.  I felt it was
hypocritical of the paper to tell readers to carefully scrutinise ads offering investment opportunities as the paper could not vouch for the claims made by advertisers, when it continued to carry ones that were clearly dishonest.
         That elicited more ASA gobbledegook with Clinton Chetty: Administrator Assistant replying: Please note we do not deal with Business practice issues or ‘warnings’. We can only deal with content of a specific advertisement. We suggest you address your concerns with the newspaper directly.
         I then asked Grobler for the email address of his Chief Executive Thembi Msibi and he gave it to me. But when that didn’t work I went back to him and he replied that that was the only one he had, but I could try her PA Rebecca Motubatse.
         I asked Rebecca to pass on the email I had been trying to send to Msibi. It said, Some members of your staff don’t understand certain complaints and dismiss them out of hand on the grounds that they do not comply with your mandate when they clearly do.
         After several requests for an answer Rebecca replied a month later saying she will investigate my complaint tomorrow with the relevant individuals before giving it to the CEO.
         I don’t know if it was ever given to Msibi, but if it was she did not contact me. I got an email from Mahlangu on 17/7/2012 apologising for lack of correspondence. She told me that they had to contact the advertiser before they could make a ruling and these cases often took a long time to resolve.
         It hadn’t dawned on anybody at the ASA that if crooks are involved they will never get a reply.
         She added that they had approached the newspaper for a response and that they held the advertiser and not the newspaper responsible.
         So with their crazy system a crook can go on promoting a dishonest investment scheme in a paper while the ASA takes no action if the advertiser hasn’t replied to a complainant’s allegations.

One investor was Veronica Diedricks , a mother of two, who put her R250 000
pension pay out into Whoopee (see advert above) and lost the lot.
         Nobody seemed to have realised that one of my complaints concerned the Sunday Times’ own ad.  So in that case the advertiser and the paper were one and the same.
         My complaints were then misfiled, ignored or lost for almost a year. I had forgotten all about them when suddenly, out of the blue, I got an email dated 22/5/2013 from Mahlangu.
This took the ASA’s gobbledegook prize of the year in spite of stiff competition.
         She once again apologised for the delays and blamed them on changes in staff and misfiling which resulted in some of the files loosing time.
         Her other excuse was that they had not received a response from the advertiser.
         She then came up with these gems that showed that if the ASA has any standard at all it is at rock bottom. The letters of complaint clearly identify the aspects of the advertising that you find objectionable however; you offer no grounds of complaint as far as the advertising is concerned.
         In each case you highlight the areas where you believe that the advertiser’s operations are untrustworthy. It is for this reason that we cannot rule on the matters and our files will now be shelved.
  In desperation I complained to Kate O’Regan, the former Constitutional Court Judge who is now the President of the ASA. I said I had come to her because I had found that to get any joy out of the CEO is hopeless.
         She replied that she had no effective executive role in the ASA but she would pass on my email. And she certainly got some action.
         Grobler replied to me full of apologies saying that because of the delays they were unable to procedurally finish what we started.  He said my experience was the exception rather than the rule and as the buck stops with him he was left with my foot and a healthy slice of humble pie in my mouth.
         And while Grobler must be lauded for his frank admissions and determination to see that this does not happen again I can’t agree that the buck stops with him.
         The buck stops with the Chief Executive Officer Thembi Msibi. I’m not sure if she was told about what happened, but if she wasn’t then her role as CEO needs a lot to be desired. And it’s even worse if her PA told her about it as she promised.

         A disgusted Jon, the Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman & Consumer Watchdog. 

P.S. The ASA is a self regulating body, but when you have the police, policing themselves it is most undesirable. 

P.P.S. In spite of the ASA’s total incompetence it looks as though my campaign has worked, although the Sunday Times will never admit it. I haven’t seen one of those dubious investment ads in the paper for ages, but the ridiculous WARNING is still there. 

No comments:

Post a Comment