Charities should respect scheduling restrictions on their television ads

The full report explaining the decision by the ASA this week not to uphold five complaints from television viewers about an advert by Care International shines some light on behind-the-scenes to-ing and fro-ing that goes on over scheduling restrictions applied to charity advertising.

The watchdog’s report explains how advertising clearance company Clearcast initially approved the advert with no timing restriction, even though it featured malnourished and distressed children. But after broadcasters expressed doubts, Clearcast added a proviso that television companies should consider carefully whether the ad should be broadcast in breaks around programmes for the under 9s.

Why would a charity seeking direct debits want to advertise on Cartoon Network and Boomerang in the first place? After all, infants won’t be donating £2 a month.

The answer lies in parent’s viewing habits: very often, they half watch and half listen to children’s television, often for hours. So for advertisers, avoiding a timing restriction at all costs – even a “consider carefully” note –becomes a goal in itself. Though intended as advice, such a note can cause broadcasters to balk at screening an ad, which in turn can hinder a charity’s plans to advertise to parents.

Care appears to have respected Clearcast’s decision and was rewarded with the ASA’s backing, but not every charity does so. Some charities and their agencies have been known to beg, plead, threaten, nag and even use emotional blackmail to persuade clearance staff and broadcasters to drop a proposed timing restriction.

How do I know? I used to work at Clearcast’s predecessor, the Broadcast Advertsing Clearance Centre, and I vividly recall how one inernational aid charity chief executive yelled at a colleague: “If people die because of this it will be your fault!” But such railroading more often than not proved counter productive, particularly when viewer complaints came rolling in.

The broadcasters know their  audiences and keep in touch with their views. They are well placed to make sound decisions about scheduling restrictions, and their judgement is usually sound. Charities should respect it.