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“Confusing” is right

By Steven | February 22, 2008

Deborah Hill Cone opines that the Advertising Standards Complaints Board decision about the Charlies ad is “confusing”.

So’s her column.

She says the decision, upholding the complaint about the ad, is confusing because much more graphic non-cartoony stuff is shown on telly, such as Californication.

Then she says that the ads have commercial motives, and that this is a reason that they are not allowed to be as risque. Then she says that it’s doubly odd because the Burger King ad featuring nublile lovelies on horseback got the ASCB’s blessing. Then she says at least the ASCB doesn’t seem to “rush to censor everything” like the BSA does.

Confusing, indeed. Why point to the BSA’s permissiveness toward dramas like Californication in the same column as you slag the BSA for censoriousness? In fact, the BSA is remarkably robust about allowing edgy drama, even where there’s sex and nudity. Of course, the BSA can’t “censor”, anyway, just uphold complaints. But can Deborah point to examples of a rash of upheld complaints by the BSA that aren’t justified, especially on grounds of taste and decency or denigration? Her column doesn’t contain any.

The Burger King ad featuring horseback bikini girls was, in fact, upheld by the Advertising Standards Complaints Board. So the ASCB isn’t being inconsistent. [Graeme Edgeler has pointed out that the complaint against the original horseback bikini girls ad was rejected. So Deborah was right (sorry, Deborah). It was a later Burger King ad, which also happened to feature use of the horseback bikini girls, that was upheld.]

I haven’t seen any reasoning from either the BSA or the ASCB that says ads have to comply with higher standards of taste because they’re seeking business. If the standards are different, it’s because the industry has created them that way. The ASA regime is voluntary self-regulation after all.

Deborah then points to the ASCB’s 15% uphold rate (for 2007, I guess) as evidence that they are more reasonable than the BSA. This doesn’t really work. First, she ignores the complaints that are “settled” – that is, the advertiser pulls the ad, acknowledging that it was in breach. It’s very likely that most of these complaints would have been upheld. Secondly, the uphold figure for 2006 was 36% (and the upheld/settled rate was 57%), so the 15% figure is uncommonly low. The upheld/settled rate is usually around 50%. But this is a bit misleading too, because it ignores the many complaints that are weeded out early in the process as being hopeless. The BSA does almost no such weeding. Its uphold rate in 2006 was about 12%, though that was an abherration, too – usually it’s around 20-25%.

So comparisons are difficult. But Deborah has hardly justified her gratuituous smack at the BSA, or the reasoning beyind her swipe at the ASCB. (As I’ve said, I do agree that the ASCB’s decision is questionable, but for other reasons).

Topics: Advertising Standards, Broadcasting Standards Authority | 7 Comments »

7 Responses to ““Confusing” is right”

  1. Graeme Edgeler Says:
    February 22nd, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    The complaint about the Burger King ad featuring horseback bikini girls:

    was not upheld.

    You’re confusing it with one of its sequels (which starts with a quick scene from the previous ad, but then transplants the women into work environments).

    And perhaps the BSA can’t censor in one sense of the word, but haven’t they done just that, for example, if TV2 ever wants to air Teenage Caveman again (

  2. Steven Says:
    February 22nd, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    Fair cop. I’ll make a change to the text.

    As for your censoring point, well, sure. My point, of course, is that the BSA doesn’t censor the way, for example, our censorship authorities do, by preventing the screening at all. It’s a loose word to throw around when you’re bagging an organisation (especially if you’re trying to contrast the BSA with the ASA which on this measure “censors” more material than the BSA does, and via its pre-vetting systems actually censors material in ways the BSA doesn’t).

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