Illegal, indecent, dishonest, untruthful. How much has the message from adland changed?

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The Independent Online
They don't make them like this any more. There is the beautiful blonde with her legs sexily wrapped around a particularly large lipstick and then we have the baby swigging the "so pure, so wholesome" fizzy pop.

These advertisements could not run today - they would be regarded as too offensive and making a claim which could not be justified.

The Advertising Standards Authority celebrates 35 years of advertising self-regulation and its chairman, Lord Rodgers, said: "With hindsight, it is astonishing that some of them ever appeared in print. They help to illustrate how the codes have developed over the years."

The use of the baby to sell fizzy drinks "would cause outrage among parents and consumer groups" today, the authority said. The permissibility of the lipstick advert would depend on whether or not anyone took it seriously enough to cause offence - "but the phallic imagery might well provoke modern-day objections".

If it did, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which deals with all non-broadcasting advertising, would adjudicate. Today all products claiming to improve health have to be able to prove it. Ads should not offend on grounds of sex, religion or race. And cigarettes in particular "should not be associated with social, sexual or romantic success".

Nigel Griffiths, the Competition and Consumer Affairs Minister, said the authority pioneered "world-beating standards" of advertising when it launched in 1962. "The ASA is a good example of business and an independent watchdog working together to safeguard the public."

Cases of recent times have included 492 complaints against Club 18-30 Holidays which were upheld in 1995. The ads included one showing a bulging male form with the words: "Girls - can we interest you in a package holiday?"

What on earth would audiences in the 1950s have made of the half naked couple in the Haagen-Dazs ads or Eva Herzigova displaying the full dynamics of the Wonderbra?

One advertising executive admitted that a little spot of trouble with the ASA always impressed the client. "They think you're pushing things to the edge," he said.

But John Pallant, at Saatchi and Saatchi, said the industry did not set out to offend, although they sometimes aimed to shock.

"Most people here are fairly sensitive about the way they go about things. They don't want to upset anyone," he said.

"But in general, we don't try to let anything straitjacket our thinking in the first place. It's usually afterwards that somebody says `You can't do that'." Yet despite improvements, Barbara Lindsay, a university researcher who has examined women in advertising, said there were still problems.

"I think there's still a long way to go. Adverts do tend to portray men as active and women as passive and obsessed with attracting men rather than having a full range of interests in themselves."

Mary-Ann Stephenson, of the Fawcett Society, said humour had probably contributed to subverting the powerful images found in advertising. She pointed to a cartoon from 1980 with a woman at the kitchen sink.

"Mummy has to keep her hands lovely in case she ever wants to go back to brain surgery," the woman tells her daughter.

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