OPINION: One has to admire the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for clinging so tenaciously to life and like Donald Trump, coming up with all manner of bluster and bravado in an effort to stay in power.
In a statement this week the ASA said its board had resolved to “voluntarily commence Business Rescue proceedings and be placed under supervision in accordance with the provisions of Section 129(1) of the Companies Act. The ASA board took this decision to allow time for the process of restructuring the organization, while reviewing and rebuilding its funding model”.
What this means is that it is actually buying time to try and think of some way of making money because everything they have tried in the past hasn’t even come close to working. Of course, the board should resign. That’s what boards do when they consistently fail and have to call in outsiders to help because they have completely run out of ideas.
But, they won’t resign judging by their statement. Which, quite frankly, looks as though they have contracted the SABC’s Hlaudi Motsoeneneng to write for them.
The ASA is a sham. It has not, for years, served the interests of the advertising media or marketing industries. Its code of practice is based on guilty until proven innocent and the manner in which it has adjudicated complaints against advertising is being questioned in courts all over the country. It has lost legal arguments and lost face. It has pretty much lost the plot.
The ASA is a sham. It has not, for years, served the interests of the advertising media or marketing industries.
But, who is to blame? Certainly not only the board and definitely not the employees of the ASA.
No, the blame for the ASA’s current predicament lies firmly in the laps of the advertising, media and marketing industries. Advertising agencies continue to suffer from chronic apathy and while they complain bitterly about being unfairly treated when their clients’ ads are banned, they have done absolutely nothing for decades to take ownership of what was supposed to be their own self-regulatory body. They have sat back and hoped that someone else would do the work. Nobody has.
The marketing industry is equally to blame in terms of widespread apathy and pretty much using the ASA to protect their own turf. Using the ASA to pounce upon their competition for often the most frivolous of reasons.
The media, though, is the worst culprit of all. Sitting back and allowing the ASA to force them to cancel millions of rands worth of often perfectly legitimate advertising and not lifting a finger. One would think that in this day and age, newspapers particularly would want to fight for every advertising rand they can lay their hands on. But, because management heads are stuck so far up their posteriors, they can’t see this flood of advertising revenue disappearing down the tubes, coming from clerks in the ASA instructing clerks in the media organisations to withdraw advertising, stop accepting advertising and so on. Millions upon million of rands.
It has been left to some advertisers themselves to take on the ASA after getting no help at all from their agencies or the media houses. There have been all manner of high court cases in the past few years from companies sick and tired of being treated unfairly by an organisation of which they are not even members nor which has any jurisdiction over them.
… it wants to be recognised under the National Consumer Protection Act to take on the role as an official ombudsman. It’s a bit like SAA offering to run the SABC.
Regrettably, many of those advertisers haven’t bothered to try and push their cases along and get them on to high court rolls because they know that as long as litigation is in process the ASA cannot touch them.
Now, the ASA wants to restructure. It wants to find a new funding model. And it wants to be recognised under the National Consumer Protection Act to take on the role as an official ombudsman. It’s a bit like SAA offering to run the SABC.
I believe advertisers, marketers and the media buyers should be pretty damn scared about what’s going to happen next.
I have serious doubts about whether the advertising and marketing industries are actually adequately represented on the ASA board by independent and non-partisan representatives of those industries. I am conscious of a previous board member admitting to me that he was involved purely to ensure that his clients remained protected. I have to wonder just how much self-interest there is in the ASA right now.
I also remain surprised that no one has yet questioned the constitutional validity of some of the ASA Code of Practice, such as the premise of treating advertisers as guilty until they can prove themselves innocent.
There is also the fundamental problem of allowing a single individual to make a complaint on behalf of 50 million consumers, particularly when that complaint falls into the realms of personal offence. There is also a fundamental problem with a consumer being able to make a frivolous complaint (of which I have numerous examples) which not only costs the ASA time but costs the brand owner hundreds of thousands of rands in legal fees, and then simply being able to walk away scot-free should the complaint be turned down.
I cannot for the life of me understand why the ASA cannot be run along the same lines as the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of SA, which works on the premise of complainants having to work reasonably hard to make a case.
The ASA is in trouble. It is no surprise. If an organisation goes bust and has to be rescued, perhaps that is a good enough excuse for the board to be disbanded and to let others have a chance to getting things back on the road.
The recent history of the ASA appears to be riddled with incompetence. I feel sorry for the staff of the ASA in the same way as I feel sorry for the staff at the SABC – all trying to do a day’s work with very little logical guidance from above.
Follow Chris Moerdyk on Twitter @chrismoerdyk
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