The Advertising Standards Authority is, we understand, considering
washing its hands of political advertising. The furore over Saatchi’s
‘Demon Eyes’ campaign for the Conservative Party showed the ASA in a
poor light, and sparked a debate within its own ranks that still
In truth, to vet or not to vet political ads is the least of the ASA’s
worries. Far more disturbing were the openly expressed opinions of some
disgruntled advertisers who felt that government regulation they could
understand and predict was better than a voluntary code that you
We believe they are wrong, that voluntary regulation is right, and that
the ASA is the right organisation for the job. Steering clear of
political advertising is a sensible move to steer the agenda back to the
rights and wrongs of mainstream marketing communications.
Yet there is still something sad - worrying, indeed - in the widely held
view that prompted the debate: that we all expect politicians to lie and
so there’s not much point in trying to establish the truth or otherwise
of their advertising.
In real life, marketers who make untrue claims about their products will
eventually get their just rewards, because customers who have once been
disappointed won’t come back for more.
Aside from the real con men who reason that they’ll never run out of
suckers, marketers are in business to build relationships between
consumers and brands, so untruthful advertising is counter-productive.
Shouldn’t this be true of political parties? In an age of marketing-
driven politics, developing loyalty to a party brand should be
But then voters only get the chance to make a buying decision once every
four years or so, and cynics might reason that consumer memories just
aren’t long enough to remember past failings when it comes time for the
Hence the move to negative political advertising - reminding the
consumer of the failures of your rival brand may be more effective than
selling the sometimes ephemeral benefits of your own, especially when,
like New Labour, consumers have no experience of using your product for
Negative advertising can be fun, but it can also trivialise important
We may laugh at political advertising but choosing a government is more
important than choosing a washing powder.
If the ASA isn’t the right body to adjudicate on political advertising,
then who or what is?