Purveyors of morality versus Jack Wills



Shock! Horror! "She was wearing a shirt and a short skirt that lifted to show her upper thigh, buttocks and the lower section of her knickers." And: "The side of the woman's breast was clearly visible and her left leg was raised and wrapped around the man who was holding it in position." Now, this is not from a cheap novelette, it’s an extract from a ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority about Jack Will’s Spring Term Handbook 2011. They’ve run out of copies now, just in case you are already putting on your shoes (my Collectors ‘Item will be auctioned on E-Bay for buckets of money).

Jack Wills has been told that “It Must Not Use the Images Again”. Perhaps they could obtain a reprieve by adding some Victorian lace with Photoshop?

There are five aspects to this:

1 We don’t need an advertising nanny. The ASA was initially set up to ensure that people could rely on the veracity of what advertisers state. Nowadays we have Google for that. This nanny should be pensioned off.

2 Purveyors of Morality? The ASA now distributes its own brand of morality. Thank you, but no thanks. Morality is personal: nobody is forced to pick up the Jack Wills catalogue, and nobody is forced to buy their clothes. My morality may not be the same as the morality of the Hare Krishnas or the Zoroastrians. The ASA is organised by the advertising industry – as such it is a private professional organisation. The morality it distributes is not state-sponsored morality (which would be just as bad), but that of a private organisation imposing it upon everybody.

3 Freedom of Speech: The ASA is an instrument of censure. Not state-run, but state sanctioned, it is a private organisation telling us what we are allowed to see, or not.

4 The ASA is a closed shop. It was set up by the big advertisers. As soon as you advertise in press, magazines, cinema or internet, the advertising agency will add 0.1 % to your bill, and pay it on to the ASA. No choice in the matter: ASA is a monopoly. Monopolies usually lead to abuse, as is the case now, in my view. The techniques they uses to impose their views include: ordering advertisers not to advertise unless the ASA CAP Copy Advice Team has allowed the specific item; and the CAP Compliance Team calling advertisers and telling them not to take advertisements from specific clients until those have ‘cleaned up their act’.

5 Even its initial aim of ensuring the veracity of advertisements is the use a collectivist method (a monopolistic professional organisation, sanctioned by the state) to tackle a private wrong. Traditional law offered a perfect way out for injured competitors or customers: to sue. Unfortunately, that is usually unaffordable because the state maintains a quasi monopoly on civil actions in this country.

The ASA construction and mindset is firmly rooted in mid-twentieth century paternalistic nannying (and Victorian times for its morality). It is not fit for the 21st Century. If we do away with it, private morality will not disappear and the world will not end.