Magazine article Marketing

Is Which? Getting the Right Answer?

Magazine article Marketing

Is Which? Getting the Right Answer?

Article excerpt

The Consumer's Association has called for changes to the Advertising Standards Authority-But Patrick Barrett asks what is the CA's own agenda?

The Consumers' Association (CA) last week turned its guns on the Advertising Standards Authority, joining the debate about the future of ad regulation by calling for the watchdog to have more bite.

In its report on the self-regulation of advertising, the CA calls for a number of changes to the way the monitoring of print and press advertising is carried out.

It proposes giving the ASA the power to force firms to run corrective ads where a campaign had been found to be misleading, fines for persistent offenders and independent assessment of the ASA's performance.

But the CA report prompted a stinging rebuke from the ASA, which dubbed it inaccurate, naive and a cynical attempt at self publicity in the wake of the election of a Labour government with a strong consumer agenda.

So what exactly is the CA, and is its voice as independent as it would have manufacturers and marketers believe?

Consumer questions

The CA, which is 40 years old this year, has built its business on questioning the activities and products of any company or group which directly affect the consumer.

The CA is a charity with 717,000 members, and divides its activities between the Which? trading group that generates revenue and the CA which conducts its research.

There is no doubt it does have a credible voice when speaking on consumer issues. Last year's annual report said it had received 340,000 phone calls and 75,000 letters from consumers.

Its principle source of income has been the publishing of the Which? magazine guides that have become the bible for many consumers seeking the best quality and value from products and services. In addition to the monthly Which? magazine, the group publishes a series of specialist titles such as Holiday Which?and Gardening from Which?, all sold through subscription.

But in recent years the circulation of Which? appears to have declined. In 1988, it could boast a circulation of 850,000, but the figure now stands at 595,000. A spokeswoman for the CA said it was unfair to compare the figures as consumers given a free trial of Which? …

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