Advertisers need to be bolder – industry expert
Outspoken ad man Mike Hutcheson says complaints about ads are dominated by the "lunatic few", but advertisers should stand their ground when challenged.
Mr Hutcheson, founder of Colenso and former managing director of Saatchi and Saatchi, told NBR ONLINE there is effectively a small club of fanatics who are compelled to complain.
"People should pull their heads in and advertisers should be bold," he says.
The Advertising Standards Authority deals with a never-ending stream of frivolous complaints, most of which are not even heard by the complaints board because the complainer was simply mistaken, or the ad was misinterpreted.
There were 1197 formal complaints in 2011 about 759 ads, of which 325 were taken the complaints board, and 83 were upheld.
"There has always been 'retired Colonel of Waikanae', or 'mother of seven from Ikamatua' who would complain," says Mr Hutcheson.
"People feel they've got a right to moan."
He says a recent complaint upheld about a Kiwibank ad which showed a boy jumping into the river was nonsense.
"That PC sh*t is just stupid.
"If you took a poll and allowed the wisdom of crowds to prevail rather than the rantings of the lunatic few, you'd find most people wouldn't give it much of a thought."
Mr Hutcheson says the anti-smoking ad featuring All Black Piri Weepu bottle-feeding his baby daughter – a scene which was pulled after outrage from pro-breastfeeding campaigners – showed advertisers needed to be bolder.
The ad was not referred to the ASA, but the advertiser withdrew the scene on its own accord.
"The trouble with government organisations is they'll run a mile if one person complains because the bureaucrats don't like being held up to scrutiny," he says.
"Advertisers should stick to their guns and not quail under the pressure of the few."
Mr Hutcheson says the ASA is generally good at dealing with complaints, and they don't usually wilt under the pressure of the few who complain.
CEO of the ASA, Hillary Souter, says there is a small number of people who complain about certain issues such as alcohol or financial advertising, but there is not a group of "serial complainers".
"By far the majority of our complaints are from individuals we've only heard from once"
She says $2.2 billion was spend on media placement last year, which amounts to a huge number of ads.
"We only got complaints about 759 ads."
Referring to the Kiwibank ad, Ms Souter says the board does exercise common sense, and there were some members who did not believe the river jumping scene should be upheld.
"The board is quite conservative about ads that have, in their view, high appeal to children.
"The style of the Kiwibank ad did have high appeal to kids. It was 10-year-olds talking to 10-year-olds.
"A similar example from last year a Weet-Bix ad showing kids riding skateboards around the blind corner on the wrong side of the road."
Most of the complaints the ASA receives are about are consumer products (16.5%), followed by entertainment (11.2%) and liquor (10.8%).
Also popular with complainers are therapeutic products and services (7.5%).
But the message is – harden up.