This paper demonstrates how the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) governs advertising ethics with and on behalf of its members and stakeholders. Drawing on an archive of 310 non-commercial (i.e. not-for-profit and public) adjudication reports, we highlight the substantive norms and procedural mechanisms through which the ASA governs advertising complaints alleging offence and/or harm. Substantively, the ASA precludes potential normative transgressions by publishing, disseminating, consulting upon, and updating detailed codes of advertising conduct. Procedurally, the ASA adjudicates between allegations and justifications of offence and harm on a received complaint-by-complaint basis, often upon consequentialist grounds. Such consequentialism, we claim, has the effect of normalizing power imbalances between the ASA’s members, on the one hand, and wider stakeholders, on the other hand. The paper argues that, in the context of UK advertising, what Michel Foucault called the right ‘to be or not to be governed like that’ is enjoyed by relatively few subjects. Having demonstrated how UK advertising practices are governed, the paper closes with suggestions as to how they might be governed otherwise.
- advertising ethics
- advertising regulation
- offensiveness and harmfulness