Angered, Sore, Aghast ...again and again

Complaining about advertisements is a growth industry... ...some people never stop. Meg Carter talks to the people who meet campaigns with anti-campaigns

'Is this more or less pleasure than watching your child grow up?" Sean Connery's voice-over asks as the film shows the damage a .22 handgun can do to a shooting range target. This is the message from Snowdrop, the group set up after the Dunblane massacre last year. Whatever the general response, it will not match the gun lobby's for speed. Even before the advertisement had its first screening in cinemas last Saturday, 50 complaints from pro-gun campaigners had been lodged with the Advertising Standards Authority. The letters were virtually identical. Hardly surprising, says the ASA's director of corporate affairs Caroline Crawford, since the deluge followed an article in a specialist shooting magazine which urged readers to complain and detailed exactly the points they should raise.

Then there's Marshall Cavendish's Murder In Mind - a publication focusing on the psychology and motivation of famous murderers, including Fred and Rosemary West and Peter Sutcliffe. Its TV advertising campaign generated 241 complaints, the Independent Television Commission confirmed last week. "A good proportion came from the same part of the country, with identical format and wording," an insider said.

No figures exist for the number of self-appointed media watchdogs in the UK. However, anecdotal evidence from industry regulators, media owners and advertising agencies paints a picture of health and professional bodies, single-interest pressure groups, religious organisations, animal rights activists and independent moral crusaders, even schools - which are becoming more vocal and sophisticated in approach.

Things have moved a long way since the Women in Media Action Group supported by the one-time Greater London Council, which regularly campaigned against the portrayal of women in advertising especially where nudity (partial or full) was involved even when promoting body creams, show gels and cosmetics. In recent years, lobbying groups have proliferated, largely driven by specific issues in the public eye.

"The power an organisation or single-issue pressure group now wields has grown in strength and sophistication," says Crawford. In 1995 the ASA saw the first ever marked increase in complaints - up by 32.5 per cent on the previous year?. The main cause of this was a British Safety Council ad featuring the pope wearing a hard hat with the line: "The Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt always wear a condom." This generated 1,192 objections - many of which were from church-related groups - which resulted in the ad being banned.

Much as they claim to hate them, a high profile obectionable ad can be manna from heaven for a small, meagrely financed lobby group. "There is no denying that launching a strategy around a complaint can generate invaluable media coverage," one animal rights campaigner confides. "While we are fully behind the objections we make, there are other spin-off benefits." Like many other campaigners, he regularly updates supporters about causes for concern and distributes template letters intended for the relevant industry watchdog or regulator, to "help them register their complaint" and swell the ranks of the concerned. An alternative tactic is to publicise the offending ad more widely - for example, by drawing it to the attention of a sympathetic member of the local or national press.

When Daily Mail columnist Lynda Lee-Potter lambasted the Gossard Glossies bra campaign last year, 321 people objected to the ASA - many of whom had not even seen the "offending" ad. A further 800 people rang in. It attracted more complaints than the top 10 most offensive ads of the entire year, according to the ASA's 1996/7 annual report, published tomorrow.

Ms Crawford and her ASA team, however, refused to be swayed. "It may surprise many, but we never make an adjudication purely by number of complaints we receive," she says. "At the end of the day, [ASA] council has to be impartial to any lobbying. It must always ask what does the public really think, rather than rely simply on the views of one vocal group or a single, high-profile journalist." Wisdom of Solomon stuff.n

The Food Claims Campaigner

Jeanette Longfield, co-ordinator The National Food Alliance

The Anti-Porn Campaigner

Anne Moyne, co-ordinator The Campaign Against Pornography

The Anti-Speed Campaigner

Food campaigners are among the best-organised lobbyists in Britain. More than 70 organisations - from radical single-issue groups to health associations and the Women's Institute - belong to the National Food Alliance.

"If there's a consensus, it is the view that children being targeted with unhealthy foods is abhorrent and distasteful at the very least, if not immoral," says Jeanette Longfield, who has worked with NFA since its launch 11 years ago.

Other issues likely to make NFA members' blood boil include the promotion of slimming products and food manufacturers' claims about their products. Recent activity concerned "functional foods" - foods that claim to have a direct health benefit. Ribena Juice & Fibre and Gaio yoghurt, for example, promised lower cholesterol levels. The ASA upheld complaints that there was insufficient proof for such claims.

NFA helps members swap information and unite for joint campaigns. Members circulate formated letters of complaint, urging recipients to send them under their own name.

Regulators, however, question some of the tactics food lobbyists employ. One source said, "Extremists can be highly selective of the data they supply to support complaints - a major criticism frequently made about the food companies."

Ms Longfield, a social scientist, says that safeguarding children's interests is key. The NFA is turning to Europe - campaigning for tougher EC laws to push Britain into line with stricter member states, such as Sweden 'We are vigorously opposed to the cult of speed," says Peter McGrath, spokesman for the Cyclists Touring Club. CTC was launched in 1878 to campaign against tramlines and small children throwing stones. Today, it champions cyclists' rights; it has 43,500 individual members and a further 20,000 through affiliated groups.

"There is a perception in the unthinking, right-wing section of the press that cyclists are dangerous," McGrath says. "This must be resolved." Careless hacks - such as the Daily Mail reporter who recently likened cyclists to street hooligans - risk swift rebuke.

Equally irritating to the CTC is the cutesy portrayal of cyclists as quirky eccentrics on penny farthings. Oh, and the indiscriminate promotion of cycle helmets without advice. "But our main emphasis is on car advertising and its emphasis on speed," McGrath explains. All too often advertisers emphasise a car's ability to go from 0 to 60 miles per hour within seconds, or suggest off-road adventure for an on-road model. "People just don't buy fast cars not to use them. Meanwhile, typical imagery in car advertising is of wide open spaces. This could not be further from the truth."

McGrath does not believe advertisers take such concerns seriously. Regulators only judge ads once they appear and if they rule against them, the worst the offender will get is "a rap on the knuckles". More effective regulation is required, he believes. Even so, the CTC has persuaded the Government to take cycling more seriously. It has won ASA rulings against Toyota, Mazda, Audi and Fiat 'It's not sex, but sexual exploitation we are opposed to. We are now in a backlash which has taken away many women's lib gains. As for the Advertising Standards Authority, they are a bunch of libertarians who do not act in the public interest. 'Taste' and 'decency' are stupid middle-class, elitist definitions of a totally subjective nature. It's a human rights issue."

CAP campaigns against what it sees as a "creeping culture of porn". It monitors ads and editorial coverage although limited funds means it must rely on its 800 members' vigilance.

"We depend on complaints coming in and then send out details to other members, urging them to write letters to the relevant industry bodies," Ms Moyne explains. Successes include cuts made to a Vauxhall Corsa commercial featuring supermodel Naomi Campbell in dominatrix garb. CAP members also picketed Vauxhall advertising agency Lowe Howard Spink's central London offices.

WH Smith has also ruffled feathers ("The H stands for hypocrite" she grumbles). Although the chain recently withdrew top-shelf titles from high-street stores, it still carries them at railways and airports and supplies independent newsagents via its national distribution network.

The CAP is considering whether its next campaign should target the ASA. "There is tremendous enthusiasm for getting rid of them," she claims. "We need a proper watchdog with a proper explanation of what degrades women and what is 'fun'

News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
sport
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Life and Style
news

As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”

Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel you sales role is li...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

Legal Recruitment Consultant

Highly Competitive Salary + Commission: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL BASED - DEALING ...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition