Wanted: legal, decent, honest expert on youth

27th June 1997 at 01:00
After Benetton, Wonderbra and Tony Blair's Demon Eyes, an advert inviting children to "Wet Yourself with Virgin Lips" provokes only ripples of public outrage.

The soft drinks promotion could not have been more timely: it's just the kind of advert the Advertising Standards Authority has in mind as it recruits new council members.

The ASA wants a senior teacher or someone else in day-to-day contact with children to help judge adverts, for their insight into the way young people think as the battleground for young consumers gets fiercer.

The council includes several parents. But chairman Lord (formerly Bill) Rodgers hopes a teacher can offer a broader insight into whether children understand innuendo, or whether they might be encouraged to behave anti-socially by adverts.

The 12-strong council makes the final ruling on whether an advert breaches public decency, fails to tell the truth or is simply irresponsible. Other members include a professor of theology, a sales director, a health professional and business people.

The ASA is still considering the Virgin ad, condemned by the National Union of Teachers as being in "appalling bad taste". It features a mock poster supposedly issued by the National Association of Teachers (sic) for a Naked Sports Day ("They're under starkers orders I").

ASA spokesman Chris Reed said: "When it comes to working out how this advert is likely to be interpreted by young people, some of the best people to ask are teachers and those in day-to-day contact with the people being targeted. "

Lord Rodgers decided to advertise in the press for council members. He said his model candidate would be a head or deputy from a big northern city to improve the council's geographical spread, but appointing the right person was more important.

Last year the ASA received 12,000 complaints, of which 2,000 were upheld. The Gossard lingerie advert prompted most outrage for: "Who said a woman can't get pleasure from something soft."

But the ASA is also concerned about adverts which encourage aggressive or anti-social behaviour - particularly if they could have an impact on children.

An alcopops advert showing youths careering round in a shopping trolley was withdrawn last year after being criticised by the ASA, as was one for a Sega computer game, depicting a leering skinhead and the slogan: "If you could do him and get away with it, you would, wouldn't you?" "I'm anxious that when we make these decisions we have members who are in touch with that generation, " Lord Rodgers said.

* Teachers interested in joining the ASA council should write to Ms Charlie Marks, Advertising Standards Authority, 2 Torrington Place, London WC1E 7HW.

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