'Grown-ups build brands for the long term': ASA warns PR firms against deliberately courting controversy

The chief executive of the Advertising Standards Authority has urged PR firms to think twice before courting notoriety by creating "deliberately provocative" adverts for clients.

ASA chief calls on PR firms to think before making "deliberately provocative" ads
ASA chief calls on PR firms to think before making "deliberately provocative" ads

Guy Parker was speaking to PRWeek following the ASA's decision earlier this month to ban an ad created by PR agency The Romans for vodka brand Black Cow.

The ad, which was removed after receiving two complaints, encouraged consumers to "unwise styles of drinking and... excessive drinking", according to the advertising self-regulator. This broke the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code, which the ASA enforces.

In response to its ban, Black Cow co-founder Jason Barber told PRWeek the company was "very grateful to the two complainants for giving Black Cow a second reason to talk about how delicious Black Cow Pure Milk Vodka is".

At the heart of the CAP Code rules, which apply to non-broadcast media, is the principle that ads should not contain anything that is likely to be misleading, harmful or offensive.

Parker said: "An ASA investigation can cost you time and money... and if you're thinking of courting notoriety by running deliberately provocative work, think again."

He added: "If you're lucky enough to burn brightly, you'll almost certainly burn briefly. Grown-ups build brands for the long term."

Parker also said that beyond the impact of an upheld ASA ruling, a banned ad can often result in a raft of negative publicity for a brand.

"Also, at a client level, an ad ban may raise questions about whether an agency or PR firm has been looking after their best interests."

Parker said that in the "rare" instances when an agency or advertiser is unwilling or unable to work with the ASA or adhere to its sanctions, they are referred to the regulator's "legal backstop", Trading Standards, which has statutory powers.

Despite the warning, Parker said that the ASA did not "like" banning adverts, and instead would rather help comms pros avoid breaking the rules.

He said: "My advice is simple: familiarise yourselves with the rules and understand how and when they apply to any material you might produce. Ignorance of the rules is not a valid defence if the ASA comes calling.

"Producing responsible ads is in the interests of everyone; it's good PR and that in turn is good for business."


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