We all love the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Oh wait, we don’t. But that’s the whole point behind a comic campaign launched by Barnes, Catmur & Friends on Monday on behalf of the ASA. To raise awareness and hopefully generate more funding via the ASA’s voluntary levy scheme, the team at Barnes, Catmur & Friends, led by creatives Matt Weavers and Jesse Stevens, created a mock website called the Department of Advertising Standards and Regulations (DASR).
“The DASR is a department with oversight from all agencies that have legislative responsibility for advertising content along with the Sub-Committee for Public Truthfulness and Decency Initiative,” says the website.
“Our funding depends on the number of complaints we handle, so please keep them coming.”
As part of the campaign, 150 letters were sent out to chief executives, creative directors and various senior people within approximately 11 of the top advertising agencies in New Zealand. Each letter singled out an ad from the advertising agency that had come under social responsibility breach, directing readers to the DASR website.
The website features a number of well known ads, including Lotto’s Lucky Dog campaign and the Mitre 10 Sandpit ad. Each guilty party comes equipped with a list of not so serious infringements that are taken very seriously by the DASR, as per the Lotto Lucky Dog example.
- Infringement 1 The depiction of a dog surviving a storm goes against all statistical evidence and gives a false impression of water safety to dogs or otherwise.
- Infringement 2 The New Zealand Ministry of Transport does not endorse travelling on the top of buses (or other) without adequate seating being provided. (Note: We are not mandated to comment on foreign transport regulations).
- Infringement 3 The dog 'Wilson' is being pursued by animals that appear to be gazelles/or other. This gives a misleading impression of food chains and/or eco systems to younger viewers.
- Infringement 4 Excavations deeper than 1.5 metres are classed as a 'dangerous workplace' (OSH 2002). It is highly irresponsible to depict such an environment without clear recognition of the necessity for high visibility apparel and suitable foot and headgear.
- Infringement 5 Feeding dogs sandwiches or other bread products is not congruent with accepted SPCA canine nutrition guidelines and should not be promoted to the public as such.
- Infringement 6 This commercial is far too long.
The website also takes a poke at ASB’s genuinely controversial and complained about IVF ad, though the infringements cited are a little more relaxed:
- Infringement 1 The driver of the car is not wearing a safety belt or similar restraining harness. Not only is this illegal, but in the context involving a pregnant female we feel it is highly irresponsible.
- Infringement 2 The driver does not signal his intended course of travel through the use the vehicle's indicators. Indicators must be employed at least three seconds before executing a turn.
- Infringement 3 This scene grossly overestimates the effectiveness of in-vitro fertilisation. In suggesting the need of a 'people mover', the public are being mislead that such a fertilisation solution would produce multiple births.
- Infringement 4 What has this got to do with a bank?
But any confusion that may have been generated by the letters sent out to advertising agencies was only short-lived and emails were sent out the following day to set the record straight about what the DASR is really about.
And in spite of the humour, the message at the end of the day is quite serious with the ASA hoping to generate funding from the voluntary 0.05 percent levy paid by advertisers. “The system may not be perfect,” says ASA on the DASR website, “but we think you’ll agree it’s probably better than the alternative”.
And that alternative, according to Barnes, Catmur & Friends creative managing partner Paul Catmur, involves the government.
“There is some resentment that fees have to be paid, but if the fees aren’t paid, the agency would fall into government hands,” says Catmur.
He says the website aims to draw attention to the fact that the ASA might not be perfect, but it’s better that the alternative—an alternative he says could be embroiled with all sorts of political red tape that would make the advertising complaints process even more complicated.
To illustrate the red tape scenario, when you click on the pay fines button on the DASR website, you are presented with two options: ‘confirm’ or ‘appeal’. But try and hit the appeal button and you’ll be lucky if you succeed. The appeal button continually moves away from the mouse cursor, something Catmur describes as “a shortcut to demonstrate the red tape you might possibly get when dealing with a government body”.
“The ASA have a tough job. The only time people come in contact with them is when people want to complain about ads. People just see the ASA as a pain but they’re just trying to do their job,” he says.
Based on comments received on the DASR's Twitter account, the campaign seems to have been well received so far.