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Confessions of an advertising standards nitpicking professional

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About 12 months ago the Advertising Standards Authority approached the IAB about representation on the ASA Complaints Board following an increasing number of complaints about online advertising. Having previously worked closely with the ASA my initial thought was, well, how hard can it be? My hat found the ring and next minute I’m the new, possibly too liberal, online guy who gets to give my two cents' worth when the measuring stick is put to advertising social responsibility and ethics.

Initially, I imagined I’d spend hours sitting around a table watching ads and simply giving a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. OK, maybe not quite that simplistic. But certainly I wasn’t prepared for losing weekends reading case papers and pouring over hundreds of pages laying out the therapeutical benefits of mud, relative capacities of 400 types of heating and the depth of discussion about appropriateness of a certain bank advertisement showing a young Kiwi lad launching himself off a rock into a watering hole.

At my very first ASA meeting I was heralded as Dan from MSN. “He’s from the dark-side,” whispered the mildly apologetic introducer.

While I accepted this introduction with a smile and my agency honed ‘nothing bothers me’ face, I was a little shocked. Surely online advertising isn’t as bad as my qualified introduction suggested?

A year into the job and I can say, sadly, the “dark-side” description was bang on. In my mind, most consumers are very tolerant online, and advertising that would in most cases generate complaints in other mediums often flies imperiously online. There’s a perception that anything goes. That does not make it right. In fact, I find it rather disconcerting.

Online is no longer the new cool kid playing by its own rules. We are responsible for a significant portion of industry advertising spend and with that comes responsibilities for standards of decency and judgement.

I’m pleased to say Microsoft is shaking things up and setting the bar higher for advertising across the Microsoft portfolio, MSN included.

With the Mi9 portfolio now reaching over 67 percent of online New Zealanders (new Nielsen numbers), we’ve put a stake in the ground marking out advertising quality standards. And while we’ve never seriously compromised ourselves, new guidelines will help advertisers and creatives understand what’s okay and what’s not.

The guidelines, known as Creative Acceptance Policy (CAP), are designed to maintain consistently high advertising standards across all Microsoft media properties. They’re mainly focused on things like sensationalised text (e.g. how to lose 10 kgs with no exercise), non-reputable therapies and health and beauty (e.g. pills promising to cure cancer), and non-reputable dating and gambling (e.g. online poker and offshore gambling).

So while there is a place for advertisements targeting those in the market for Russian and Asian brides (and bless, there is no judgement) that form of advertising will no longer be acceptable on MSN and the Microsoft Media Network.

  • Dan Robertson is sales director at Mi9, the newly rebranded corporate arm of MSN NZ.  

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