ASA Malaysia to be more proactive and boost public awareness

March 29, 2014

BY the time Michael Tang retired in 2011 after nearly five decades in the advertising industry, he was glad to be out of it.

He admits that changes in the industry over the last 10 to 15 years have made it very difficult for even a person with his years of experience to function well.

He has a list of concerns: “The concept of brand building which was practised in the 70’s to 90’s is no longer practised, in favour of short-term objectives. The workforce is not committed unlike the old days where staff stayed quite a number of years in an agency. Now, instead of talking with the managing directors and marketing directors (on the client side), we have to deal with junior people who have the right to say no but don’t have the power to say yes.”

Tang stayed active after retiring as Spencer Azizul Advertising executive director. But his focus has been on giving back to society by doing church-related charity work to improve the lives of poor rural folks in places like Cambodia.

However, Tang is now back serving the ad industry, though not on the business operation side of it.

From the middle of last year, he has been chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority of Malaysia (ASA Malaysia), which works to ensure that the industry is free of fraudulent and offensive ads in the print and outdoor media.

Established in 1977, it complements the much-younger Communications and Multimedia Content Forum of Malaysia (CMCF) which monitors electronic content via broadcast, Internet and mobile. ASA’s constituent members are the Malaysian Advertisers Association, Association of Accredited Advertising Agents Malaysia (4As), Malaysian Newspaper Publishers Association, Media Specialists Association and Outdoor Advertising Association of Malaysia.

Why did Tang agree to take over the post? “I have been in this industry for 50 years. This is a way that I can contribute back to and lift the status of this industry. That’s really my main purpose,” he tells StarBizWeek.

“It is a nice way to be involved in the industry without having to go through problems coming into the industry in the business side.”

The appointment of Tang, who helmed the 4As from 1987 to 1990, may help to raise the public awareness of ASA, which has kept a very low profile in the last few years.

Until just recently, ASA tended to wait for complaints to be filed by marketers and the public. “Very few complaints come from the public, maybe because they do not know who or where to complain,” he says.

ASA has just launched an updated ASA website in which the public can learn how to lodge complaints. They can find a complaint form there, says Tang, who welcomes complaints from the public.

He sees it as important for ASA to be on top of the public’s mind. “If advertising loses public confidence, advertising loses credibility. When people are cynical about advertising, the industry may not be able to attract good people to come in and take up advertising as a career. People must see advertising as a ‘professional’ business.”

To raise public awareness of ASA, Tang plans to have a newspaper campaign by August.

“We need to spell out very clearly what is ASA Malaysia. If you ask most people who are not involved in advertising what is ASA, they would not know,” he says.

Self-regulation

He also feels that ASA needs to be more proactive.

“Many years ago we had someone monitoring but the service was dispensed off. Our plan is to bring this back. Hopefully the constituent members will financially support the staffing,” he says.

Tang, who has submitted the recommendation, hopes ASA’s constituent members will give a positive answer in the upcoming ASA council meeting, to be held next week.

Towards the end of 2012, it was reported that the Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry was thinking of amending the Consumer Protection Act 1999 to curb misleading ads. Under the proposal, advertisers can be slapped with a fine of up to RM50,000 and jailed up to three years while ad agencies can be fined up to RM100,000 for the first offence and RM200,000 for subsequent offences.

There has been no follow-up report on that proposal, though the Act has since been amended to include a possible fine of up to RM50,000 and/or three-year imprisonment (for the first offence) for online businesses that provide false and misleading information.

Tang says he hopes the proposal will not materialise. “This is one of the reasons that I and the constituent members felt we should do something to be seen at least to be proactive. We are also trying to work with CMCF to see how we can work together to strengthen the regulatory body,” he says.

ASA hopes to meet up with the ministry’s officials and seek the latter’s support when certain “things” that require enforcement crop up. ASA itself has no enforcement power like CMCF, which can, among others, impose a fine of up to RM50,000.

ASA’s role is more of a mediator. Say a marketer complains of its competitor’s “misleading” product claims. If ASA agrees with the complainant, it would give the other party two days to respond to the fact that the evidence submitted does not support the claims. As a last resort, ASA will approach media owners to get the errant advertiser’s ads withdrawn.

“We want the parties to understand that our desired interest is to uplift the quality of advertising − to try and project a better image for the industry as a whole. So we seek cooperation from advertisers, agencies and media owners to support what we’re doing. In that way, we use persuasion and reasoning to get them to self-regulate,” he says.

On the Malaysian Code of Advertising Practice, last revised in 2008, Tang says it is still relevant. However, ASA is looking at updating it.

“There are no real guidelines, for example, to say what are considered ‘green’ products. How can you claim that your product is a green product?” he says.

There has been debate on whether political advertising should be included. “Many other countries have eliminated the political part from their code, as they’re not selling goods and services. Of course, we try to inculcate good sense and good ethics in terms of how you communicate the messages,” he says.

(Australia, for example, has no legal requirement for the content of political advertising to be factually correct, according to Australia’s Advertising Standards Bureau website,)

Tang is not too worried about advertising in newspapers. He says most advertisers in the press do follow the guidelines.

“The greatest concern that we have is much more in the area of direct mail which are placed into homes and the many unlicensed materials plastered along the roads. Those are the things that are most difficult to monitor and control.”

ASA plans to get the big direct marketing agencies to join as its constituent members though it has not made any approaches so far.

“The more associations we can get, especially those involved in producing and placing advertisements, to be aware that there’s a code that governs the advertising messages, the more likely people will follow the guidelines,” he says.

Isn’t it difficult to monitor direct mail? “That is one reason why I would like to get the constituent members to contribute to us hiring staff. We can start off with whatever that arrives in our mailboxes. Of course, you can’t monitor throughout the country because we don’t have the resources, but we can start somewhere. If we discover the messages sent out are misleading or unethical, that’s where we need to take it up with the Domestic Trade Ministry. The Government can help by bringing certain laws into play, but we try to avoid that by dealing with offenders directly,” he says.

He reckons that the ministry also doesn’t want too many laws and rules, as that would be bad for business. “The best thing to do is to get parties to settle things amicably without escalating it into a bigger problem.”

However, he says he won’t be surprised if at some stage, the Government introduces tighter controls for direct mail. “Any Tom, Dick and Harry can produce something on a computer, print it and send it out. It can be quite damaging.”

Source: "ASA Malaysia to be more proactive and boost public awareness." The Star Online., 29 Mar. 2014. Web.

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