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ASA issues warning on 'offensive' charity ads

 ASA issues warning on 'offensive' charity ads
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ASA issues warning on 'offensive' charity ads

Finance | Vibeka Mair | 18 Mar 2009

The Advertising Standards Authority has criticised charity advertisers who “cross the line of acceptability” or readily turn to shock tactics to bring an issue to public attention.

The ASA has published a review of charity advertising in light of complaints more than doubling from 577 in 2007 to 1,453 in 2008. Over 800 of the complaints in 2008 were made about a TV ad for Barnardo’s (pictured) which featured a child repeatedly being hit. The ASA did not uphold the complaints as it concluded the aim of the ad justified the use of such strong imagery.

In its review, the ASA admitted there was an unwritten, but generally accepted rule that charities were allowed slightly more leeway than other advertisers because of what they were trying to achieve.

But it insisted that while charities might have more legitimate reasons for using stark or hard-hitting imagery, they were still bound by the same rules as other advertisers.

“By using emotive – or even distressing – imagery, the ASA has ruled that charity advertisers sometimes cross the line of acceptability – irrespective of the importance of the issue they are trying to bring to the public’s attention,” said an ASA spokesman.

Reputational risk to the whole sector


The ASA also warned that charities had to consider the reputation of the sector as a whole, singling out the Barnardo’s ad as a bad example.

“In 2008 over half the complaints about charity ads were about the Barnardo’s campaign. Just one high-profile ad can cause a dramatic spike in the number of complaints for a sector and ultimately can risk casting charity advertisers in a bad light.

“So, when is it ok to cause serious or widespread offence in a charity advertisement? The short answer is, never. Although shock tactics can be effective at raising awareness about an important issue by jolting the public into action, there is a difference between being provocative for the sake of it and using a justifiable hard-hitting approach.

“Being remembered for the wrong reasons could result in negative publicity for a charity – and might not engender charitable feelings amongst the public.”

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