Following recent hints dropped by Ofcom chair Lord Currie, the prospects for radical change to broadcast ad regulation in the UK look much brighter. For comment and pure speculation by marketinglaw’s editor Stephen Groom.
Who: Lord Currie, Chair of Ofcom
Where: Advertising Association Lunch
When: 19 May 2003
Lord Currie, Chairman of the new communications super regulator, Ofcom, appeared to give the green light to a radical overhaul of the regulation of broadcast advertising in the UK. For some months advertising industry bodies have been working on proposals to move to a system of "co-regulation" in the sector. In essence, the model would entail the handling of complaints in respect of broadcast advertising by an industry-funded entity, rather than by a statutory body such as the Independent Television Commission, which currently does the job.
More work needs to be done to develop the proposals to a point at which they are ready to go after Ofcom comes into existence at the end of 2003. In the meantime, there follows below a piece written by marketinglaw.co.uk editor Stephen Groom recently published on his regular Media Week column.
OUT OF THE BOX
Media Week 30/5/03
New victory for ad self-regulation?
So it's official. According to OFCOM Chair Lord Currie, the new communications super regulator is "quietly hopeful" that a scheme to revolutionise our broadcast advertising control systems can be got off the ground.
And we're not talking slow lane here. The current plan is to have the new system up and running by the time OFCOM takes over from the ITC, the Radio Authority, the Broadcast Standards Commission, the Director General of Telecommunications and Uncle Tom Cobley in December.
So what's so revolutionary about the plan? In essence, it takes day to day processing of complaints about broadcast ads out of the hands of a statutory authority (currently the ITC) and into the remit of a new, ad industry-funded arm of the Advertising Standards Authority.
Funnily enough, in terms of the front end of the process, this will bring the actuality into line with general perception. Surveys, and the long-suffering switchboard of the ASA will testify, that so far as the great complaining British public is concerned, the ASA is the body that handles ad complaints, period.
And therein lies the beauty of the plan. Mirroring OFCOM, a one stop shop for pretty much all complaints about UK advertising and marketing, based on a tried and trusted model and a well respected and for most, instantly recognisable brand.
So that's the easy bit.
How will it work?
For instance, what about the current vetting of all broadcast ads before going on air, and who's going to pay for all this?
Currently, vetting is bankrolled by the commercial TV and radio networks and done on their behalf by specialised clearance centres. And make no mistake, it's a massive task. In 2002, the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre (TV ads) cleared over 30,000 ads.
By and large, despite the inevitable stresses and strains, the system works pretty well. And there's not a snowball's chance of the networks getting out of having to stump up the cash. So most will say "If it ain't broke…"
But on the other hand, pre vetting is something the self-regulatory system for non broadcast ads already does. The Committee of Advertising Practice ("CAP"), (which together with the ASA and the Advertising Standards Board of Finance ("ASBOF") makes up the triumvirate at the heart of the process) currently operates a free Copy Advice service for all non broadcast advertising. Admittedly, as CAP vetting is not compulsory, the operation is in a different dimension to that of, say, the BACC. Last year, for example, the CAP advised pre publication on roughly 4,500 ads, less than a sixth of the volume handled by the BACC.
But if, as currently seems to be the plan, the ASA is going to operate, behind the front desk, discrete systems for processing non broadcast and broadcast ad complaints, what could be more logical than similar systems for pre-vetting, under the auspices of an expanded CAP Copy Advice system, all running inside the same big "ASA" tent?
There is the question of funding.
But would it be a major problem? Advertisers currently fund the ASA/CAP system via ASBOF and a tiny levy on most non broadcast advertising spend. If, as seems to be the plan, the new "BASA" broadcast ad complaint handling system is to be a separate cost centre and funded out of an ASBOF type levy on broadcast advertising spend, it may not be a huge problem to have another separate, BASA pre-vetting cost centre, still funded by the networks.
Perhaps a change too far when so much else is in the melting pot, including the broadcast ad Codes, and time of course is short. But it surely makes sense to review the whole process from front to back in one go, and whatever happens, there are undoubtedly exciting times ahead for the ASA, and its sterling team headed by Chair Lord Borrie and Director General Chris Graham. It couldn’t happen to two nicer guys!