Jon Allen
10th Sep 2014

You know the Advertising Standards Authority – it’s the standard bearer for all that is legal, decent, honest and true. (Can they really justify what the 2nd ‘A’ stands for? Might be fun to complain one day.) Their weekly judgement email sent down from on high is consistently entertaining. Mostly the companies investigated have names like Chiseller Finance t/a Mugmoney and don’t respond to the complaint then shut up shop before it’s upheld. But most weeks there’s at least one proper should-know-better organisation listed, not for fraud but because someone was offended. This week, American Apparel are rapped over the knuckles for online pages showing a female model in ‘provocative’ poses wearing schoolgirl’s clothes. A little racier than George at Asda’s Back to School campaign, I’d imagine. They did it. They got caught. They took it down. But, of course, they had to protest that they were in the right. Cue a load of guff about “a range of different images of people who were natural, not posed and real”. They even threw in some Dove body imagery stuff about non-airbrushing. The model was a 30-year-old photographer apparently. Dressed as a schoolgirl.

Then AA even more confusingly argued that they “drew a strong distinction between their advertising in print or in conventional media”. In their view, one is “circulated indiscriminately throughout a population” and so they carefully monitor content. The other, people have sought out and know what to expect and so don’t need protecting. If you “opt in” to an email campaign after seeing a deliberately provocative ad, anything goes. (This is digital silo ‘thinking’.) There’s even more bollo. The pics were “posted by a junior and relatively inexperienced member of their social media team”. The best comes last. The images were “not part of any Back to School campaign or marketing effort”. Yeah, right.

It would be so much more refreshing if they took after the Daddy of the current Shock Merchants. Paddy Power employs someone with the title Rulebender Dude – or something like that – so you know how they’re going to act. They churn out vulgar stuff designed to cause maximum tabloid outrage. The Mail, Express et al will then extend the coverage for free by splashing their indignation all over their pages. And then other media decide that’s news. Job done. Their most gratuitously crass effort to date was an ad saying ‘It’s Oscar Time’, with Pistorius as the golden statuette and the subhead: ‘Money back if he walks’. Fnarr, fnarr. Following a totally expected deluge of outrage, the ASA unprecedentedly asked PP to withdraw it while they made up their mind. It became their most complained about ad of all time, topping a KFC effort showing people talking with their mouths full. Paddy Power responded to gaining the number one spot with: “In your face KFC.” (I don’t know whether the ASA felt forced to call their parents in for a chat at that point.)

As with so many of the conflicts around the world, the different sides simply don’t understand each other’s rights and responsibilities. Studying each week’s report would help, but when it comes to digital in particular the ASA is well played out, innit? So I suggest it hands over one case each week to Paddy Power to adjudicate. For this report, it could have been the Medical Aid for Palestine fundraising mailing. UK Lawyers for Israel and Baroness Deech had complained.

Paddy Power’s ruling is just in. They’ve chosen for someone dressed as Conchita wearing a Nazi helmet to shout it through a megaphone: “We hear you Deechy Baby and your dishonourable friends! But these Palestinian medical ads putting people off holidaying in Israel???!!! Are you having a laugh? We wouldn’t fancy copping for a return missile from your neighbour just as we’re celebrating beating Jerry to a deckchair. So give it a rest, M’Luds and Lady.” Maybe not. Even giving deliberate offence needs to be done with a certain sensitivity. So bog off. That is, if you wouldn’t mind awfully.

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