Advertising agencies branded the ASA "too conservative" and "narrow-minded" after it banned the Post Office commercial calling on children to write to Santa Claus.
The decision heightened tensions between the agencies and the watchdog body over "a string of rulings which had seen some creative and entertaining adverts being banned", including ads by Saatchi & Saatchi for the Amy Biehl Foundation. See the banned ad here, and the ad they created in response to the ban here.
The authority consists of members from the public and groups like the Gender Commission, as well as elected people by the advertising industry. The ASA clains it was "just abiding by the rules that had been agreed to by the industry."
Exerpt from the article: This week the authority ruled for Cape Town journalist Andrew October, who had complained that the Post Office ad encouraged a "falsehood that could break the fragile spirits of the already disillusioned youth of South Africa".
"The directorate was of the opinion that it could conceivably be extremely upsetting for a child who does not receive the requested presents to believe that he or she has been too naughty during the past year," read the ruling.
The Post Office said it was "shocked" at the ruling because the advert had been flighted for four years.
"We were gobsmacked and the clients were taken aback by the ruling and so was the public," said Patricia Stern from Lobedu Leo Burnett, the agency which had the ad aired.
Happy Ntshingila, managing director of Herdbuoys McCann-Erickson, said the ASA had become "trigger-happy."
"They are starting to interfere with freedom of speech," Ntshingila said. " In this industry we should be having fun and be creative, but with them we can't celebrate creativity. If you become slightly competitive, you're dead. So all of a sudden we have to create prim and proper ads."
Network BBDO, which recently had to withdraw a Chicken Licken ad after Kentucky Fried Chicken complained, branded the watchdog body "far too conservative."
"I think the ASA should interpret the more subjective, grey issues in a more liberal-minded way and take into account freedom of expression," said Peter Schumacher, financial director for the agency.
Chris Moerdyk, media and advertising analyst, said the relationship between the ASA and the ad industry has been deteriorating for years. While the industry was partly responsible because it didn't get involved enough with the watchdog body, he felt the ASA had become reactionary out of fear that the government would regulate the industry.
"The ASA is so paranoid that they ran an ad campaign to encourage people to complain...I despair at how narrow-minded and intolerant people are and I partly blame the ASA who are encouraging it," he said.
"Clients will tell their ad agencies that if an ad is banned, it is the agency's fault and they would have to pay for litigation, for example. Agencies are now very careful and you end up with boring advertising. When you take away the risk factor you end up with dull ads, " Moerdyk said.