Fed up with MLC As the wrangle over last year's ads drags on and on, the Danes and the Dutch just wish the MLC would be more positive. And that the ASA would act faster. Elaine Watson reports The Advertising Standards Authority came in for more flak this week as leading pigmeat industry figures wondered how the regulator had managed to take the best part of a year to decide the MLC had gone too far with its controversial ad campaign to promote British pigmeat. But bearing in mind it took the authority three years to decide Red Bull had overstepped the mark with unsubstantiated claims for its energy drink (The Grocer, January 27, p9), nine months is a "relative sprint" observed Dutch Meat Board UK managing director Robert Smith. Yet news the MLC is to appeal against the ruling means the "unhelpful debate" will drag on even longer, he complained. Leading figures in the industry rounded on the MLC this week for refusing to admit defeat and pursue a "more constructive" approach to advertising. Almost nine months after the commission was hauled up before the authority, the ASA ruled it had "misleadingly exaggerated the possibility of a piglet eating products derived from its mother" with an advert featuring a pig feeding its young accompanied by the strapline: After she's fed them, she could be fed to them.' Likewise, ads featuring a pig in a cabbage field and a pig being led from one stall to another were deemed to "misleadingly imply that pigs reared under the [Assured British Pig] scheme led a more free life than they did" But MLC pigmeat marketing manager Chris Lukehurst was unrepentant: "We chose the word could' very carefully. The ASA even acknowledged that the process does allow for cannibalism. We never claimed it happened all the time. "The ASA has made assumptions based not on facts but on broad inferences." And he insisted: "As for the talk about a free and happy life,' we never made any claims about pigs along these lines." By specifying that the pig in the cabbage field was a "genuine pig on a genuine, named farm", the MLC can hardly be accused of making sweeping generalisations about living conditions, he added. But Danish Bacon and Meat Council UK marketing director John Howard said the MLC was "pushing its luck". "To be honest, we thought the ASA was quite generous. The ruling should have been accepted gracefully." The fact that the campaign had not boosted sales of British pigmeat merely proved it "didn't engage customers anyway", added Howard. "My concern is with the [complaints] process. I appreciate this was a complex matter, but if the process is going to be credible it has to be faster." The Dutch Meat Board's Smith said he was disappointed the MLC had decided to waste everybody's time (and more public money from MAFF) on fighting a battle that would not produce a "meaningful victory". Arguing the MLC's quibbling over "semantics" was disingenuous, he suggested the commission would be well advised to concentrate on putting together a "more constructive campaign rather than engaging in "paralysis by analysis" with the ASA. The average person doesn't read the small print on advertising material, he contended. They see a pig in a cabbage field and the Quality Standard mark and assume all pigs are reared like this. Likewise, there was every possibility that consumers might infer cannibalism is a standard practice after reading the phrase, She could be fed to them'. "Let's focus on the positive promotion of the product. This was an opportunity to draw the line in the sand and the MLC hasn't taken it." Whether the campaign has actually damaged the industry is difficult to assess. But there are many who believe this ad could rebound on the British and ultimately hit sales across all bacon. In material terms it didn't dampen sales of Dutch or Danish pork and bacon, but that's only because consumers didn't seem to take much notice of the ads, argue some critics. Meanwhile, the ASA has admitted it could take "some time" to plough through the reams of evidence all over again before deciding whether the MLC even has any grounds to lodge an appeal. If it does, the whole process effectively starts again, with both sides submitting fresh evidence to be assessed by outside consultants and referred back to the authority's main council. An ASA spokesman rejected claims advertisers were now playing the system in the knowledge their ads would have been and gone by the time the ASA got round to ruling on them. But Smith is not convinced: "I'm pleased by the ruling and disappointed by the appeal. But most of all I'm amazed it's taken so damn long. Unless something is done to speed up the process, the moral of this case seems to be: Publish and be damned'." - See Opinion p18 {{NEWS }}