By Andrew Holt
Public concern about advertising by charities is prominent in new research released today by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
The study entitled Public perceptions of harm and offence in UK advertising, conducted by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the ASA, reports that "hard hitting charity ads" are given as a top spontaneous example of harmful and offensive material.
Participants in the study argued that charity adverts can go too far, using distressing content to make people feel upset or guilty in a way that was considered inappropriate.
Conversely, some felt adverts should have more scope to shock because of their worthwhile aims.
There were also widespread concerns about the impact on children of adverts using strong imagery to depict suffering or mistreatment, with parents reporting that children had been upset and worried about being unable to help.
There was also a feeling that ads targeting children’s channels were perceived as being intended to engage children’s emotions so they would ask parents to donate.
Colin Lloyd, chair of the Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB) believes this latest research from the ASA should enable charities to get a clearer understanding of what is likely to cause public offense in advertising and he welcomes findings that can provide a valuable insight for the charity sector.
He said: “It is clear there is a balance to be struck between charities’ needs to build causal awareness and public support with risk to their reputations from the negative impact of advertising that is felt to be distressing.
“The study recognises that offence is highly personal and subjective, and, encouragingly, that there is understanding that charities need to make an emotional connection with the public.
"The charity sector has the support of robust codes of best practice reflecting today’s media landscape, which together with its investment in self-regulation, can help identify the all-important balance.
"Every charity must be responsible in following best practice and in every case should be asking themselves where they draw the line to ensure advertisements are compatible with their mission and values without being offensive or guilt laden.”
A full copy of the research Public perceptions of harm and offence in UK advertising can be seen on the ASA website: www.asa.org.uk.
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