1990’s: Advertising self-regulation through the decades

In 1990, the Committee of Advertising Practice changed its name to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), and formally registered as an incorporated society. This change also included the appointment of the first full-time staff member of the ASA, Executive Director Glen Wiggs.

A year later, the Advertising Standards Council is replaced by the Advertising Standards Complaints Board, which continues to be comprised of eight members – four industry representatives, and four public members including the Chair with a casting vote. The shift to a full-time Secretariat meant the ASA was well placed to service our expanding complaints process, with 160 complaints received in 1991 as consumers became more aware of their right to complain to the ASA. This was an exponential increase in complaints from the 1980’s, where the CAP averaged around 30 complaints a year.

In 1992, the ASA received our first complaints about advocacy advertising. To support the ASCB in the adjudication of these complaints, the Advocacy Principles were developed. These principles remain the same as those included in our recent Guidance Note on Advocacy Advertising.

Recognising the importance of raising awareness of the free-to-consumer complaints process, the first ASA advertising campaign is . Ensuring advertising in New Zealand is truthful, decent and not misleading to consumers is central to the ASA’s role, and the importance of consumer rights is outlined by Chairman Martyn Turner in the 1993 ASA annual report:

Self-regulation has now come of age in New Zealand and as a result the consumer will be better served. We recognise that if the needs of the consumer are not fully met and that they do not receive a fair and efficient system of justice, then the self-regulatory process will fail the consumer. It is our continual challenge to ensure that our self-regulatory system is successful.”

An amendment to the Broadcasting Act in 1993 saw the ASA’s jurisdiction expand, with complaints about TV and radio ads transferring from the Broadcasting Standards Authority to the ASA. Television remained the most complained about medium for a further three decades, eventually being overtaken by digital advertising in 2021.

By 1994, further expansion of the ASA saw the Advertising Standards Complaints Appeal Board (ASCAB) established, and the first opt-in Advertiser Levies set at 0.035% of media placement cost – collected by ad agencies to support the ASA process.

Internet use across New Zealand boomed in the mid-late 1990’s, and the increasing number of company websites (and therefore advertisements) led to the first complaint about internet advertising in 1997. The complainant was concerned a fly/drive package on the Ansett website was misleading. The complaint is settled after the Advertiser agreed the terms and conditions could have been clearer and removed the advertisement.

In 1999, the ASA received 120 complaints regarding the use of the word “Bugger” in a Toyota television advertisement. While the Complaints Board ultimately did not uphold the complaint, ruling the advertisement was unlikely to cause widespread offence, the advertisement became a precedent for offensiveness in advertising and the mitigating circumstances of context, medium and audience.

This post is part of our advertising self-regulation through the decades series. Learn more about our history and read the rest of the series on our 50th anniversary page.