It was, perhaps, always a long shot that the Advertising Standards Authority would find the Money Advice Service’s recent controversial advert had breached its rules.
As the ASA had already rejected some of the more subtle but important concerns expressed by advisers and others who complained about the ad, and pressed ahead with a very narrow investigation, we were not holding out too much hope.
To refresh memories, it is the following extract from the advert which caused the greatest offence. “Our advice is independent and unbiased. Oh, and it’s free. How is that for a breath of fresh air?”
It is hard to believe that the industry-specialist advertising executives charged with putting together this advert were not aware of the significance of the wording used.
Likewise, it is hard not to see the “breath of fresh air” comment as a deliberate dig at the IFA sector which currently offers unbiased and independent advice to the Great British public.
The advert also contradicts the FSA’s stated RDR goal of ensuring people understand that the advice they receive comes at a price.
Debate over whether consumers understand the charges levied on them have dominated discussion on this website over the past few days. The message sent out by this advert only muddies these waters further.
The Government’s decision to brand the service as “advice” is obviously the source of all subsequent concerns. If you are offering advice you should be prepared to take responsibility for it yet, as a lengthy disclaimer on the MAS website makes clear, it takes no such responsibility.
Though the ASA decision shows the advert has not broken any rules, the tone and language used created a dangerous misconception.
Increasing the financial education of the public is a worthy aim worth pursuing but MAS should be working with the industry rather than concocting marketing campaigns which appear designed to belittle it.
MAS must forge a more productive relationship with the people who pay its wages in future if it is to be a success.
Paul McMillan is the editor of Money Marketing- follow him on twitter here