Countdown to our 50th anniversary: 1983 – 1984
30 August 2012
Buckle up. 1983 was the year that wearing seatbelts in the front of cars became compulsory, compact discs, then the height of technology, were first marketed on these shores and the one pound coin came into circulation in England and Wales. It was also a year in which the ASA faced a political conundrum.
Facing pressure from the House of Lords, our Annual Report reveals we were grappling with the vexed question of whether political ads should be subject to the Advertising Code and subsequently fall under our remit. However it was clear then, as now, that we did not think it should.
Our Chairman outlined the competing arguments and why on balance we ought not to enter into these unnavigable waters. He reasoned that if the ASA was called upon to regulate political claims in ads we would fall short and “lose credibility as a quasi-judicial institution and come to be seen as a partisan body giving reign to political or other sorts of prejudice.”
Indeed, he suggested that “The very notions of truth or factual accuracy or dishonesty or fairness would bend in the hands of those who sought to deploy them in adjudicating upon this type of controversy.”
Yet, it is also clear he was dissatisfied with the alternative, almost ruefully observing that “Even if it is impracticable to deal similarly with political advertisers, is it right to give them a licence, however theoretical, to print untruths with impunity?”
This left us with the unsatisfactory situation where “Council cannot avoid confronting serious issues of public concern on the ground that the Code excludes the subject from its jurisdiction. On the other hand, there are areas within which it cannot adjudicate.”
The outcome of this regulatory soul-searching was an amendment to the Advertising Code to deal with these “two seemingly conflicting requirements”. The change would be detailed in the following year’s report.
Meanwhile, the CAP Chairman raised concerns that some advertisers were not acting honourably when it came to complaining to the ASA - “A small number of advertisers have attempted to make use of the complaints procedure to achieve commercial advantage rather than to resolve genuine disputes.”
Although there is no suggestion that anything but a minority of advertisers indulge in vexatious complaints against competitors, it is something that we actively discourage. So much so that last year we adopted a new approach
to handling competitor complaints that requires advertisers to provide evidence that they have tried to resolve their complaints with their competitor, before we will agree to take on the complaint.
It is only with the gift of hindsight that we can look back, with some puzzlement we may add, and wonder why in 1983 the sector which gave rise to the most complaints was car and motor accessory advertising. Motor accessory advertising? We can only suppose chamois leathers must’ve been controversial back then. Even more intriguing is the fact that computer ads generated plenty of complaints, something that we apparently “viewed with some concern”. It is not clear, however, why.
Arguably the highlight of that year’s report, however, is the boundless enthusiasm with which we wax lyrical about the second public information film that we produced “Two Too Many”.
Impressively, if not amazingly, it “premiered at the Classic Cinema, Tottenham Court Road.” Not only that, during the year it “received 55 cinema bookings on the commercial circuit”. Better still, the loan and distribution of it prompted “such a high level of bookings… additional copies on film and video had to be added to stock three times during the year.” To cap it all off, we reported that “requests for copies of the film have been received from France, Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong, Canada and South Africa.
The public appetite for ad regulation was clearly insatiable.
And on that note of reaching out to the public, we detailed our continuing commitment to engaging with schools and colleges – something that we will be undertaking again this Autumn. But while in 1983 we were keen to “explain the work of the Authority and the safeguards provided by the self-regulatory system” it appears we took a peculiarly parochial approach to spreading the word, adding that “As a rule we do not travel much beyond a 100 mile radius of London”.
Read the 1983 Annual report here