Kim Penstone

Listening to lone voices

2004-08-27 10:18

The Advertising Standards Authority is often regarded as a thorn in the side of the advertising industry. Critics of the body, its code and its system are easy to find. Just think of those who created the Tastic ad, ditto the vast majority of Nando?s advertising.

Fans of the same are a little tougher to locate.

But you might (and I stress: might) be reading the words of one recent convert.

In the past, I regarded the body with a healthy dose of cynicism, primarily because many of the ads that I favoured have landed up on its chopping block. Ad appeared, ad made me laugh, ad disappeared. Press informed me that ad had been banned. By ASA.

Most annoyingly, press informed me that ad had been banned following one single complaint. From one single consumer. That consumer could have an ulterior motive. He could have a hidden agenda. Worse, he could have simply nothing better to do.

The fact that the ad had been subjected to the scrutiny of a panel did very little to improve my sense of humour.

The mere fact that one complaint could raise the ASA from its slumber only seemed to prove that the ASA had as little to do with its time as the complainant.

But, following a round table with the ASA, I'm in the midst of reforming my views.

One statement, made by board member Nkwenkwe Nkomo, really hit home.

"So many people complain that we react to one complaint, but that?s the whole point. The ASA Code is based on South Africa's Constitution, which protects the rights of every individual. How then, could we ignore one, individual complaint?

"The ASA, like the Constitution, recognises the validity of the lone voice."

It's an important point, and one that, I'm embarrassed to admit, I had glibly overlooked.

In a fledgling democracy like ours, every voice is important. And the ASA has a duty to investigate every complaint that it receives. Granted, it also has the authority to dismiss these complaints, but not without first giving the complainant a chance to be heard.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not about to become an ASA disciple. And I'll continue to beat the drum for those companies and agencies brave enough to push the proverbial envelope. I'll even shout out when I believe the ASA has erred in its judgement.

But I'll never again lament the fact that it acts on one single complaint. On the contrary, I'll be the first to complain when it stops listening to those lone voices.

Send your comments to Kims

  • Kim Penstone is editor of Marketingweb, a website wholly owned by Moneyweb that focuses on the media, marketing and advertising arena. For more articles of a similar nature, go to

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