Betty McBride is correct in stating that the British Heart Foundation’s (BHF) agency sought advice from the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) before publishing the “Heart Failure” ad subsequently criticised by the Advertising Standards Authority (MW June 20).
The CAP copy advice team has the job of trying to predict before publication whether the ASA will judge an ad to be in breach of its codes in the event of complai
nts. In subjective areas such as social responsibility, those decisions are extremely difficult. To predict accurately, the team consults detailed rules and past ASA decisions. In the majority of cases, its advice proves to be accurate and useful to the enquirer. The team cannot and does not, however, guarantee future immunity from critical ASA decisions. With enquirers pushing to get as close to the line as possible, there are occasional (inevitable) cases where events subsequently show that the team’s advice was too cautious or too liberal. Neither the CAP team nor, I would suggest, the BHF and its agency anticipated the strength of public reaction to this ad. That is regrettable, but it is crucial to the integrity of the system that the ASA Council remains the final arbiter of whether an ad breaks its codes.
So, while the BHF ad was branded irresponsible by the ASA, the decision to seek pre-publication advice certainly was not. And while the CAP copy advice team was not cautious enough in this instance, that should not detract from the many thousands of occasions each year when its advice is spot on.
Committee of Advertising Practice