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RIP ASA - organisations like mine are the new regulators

I heard about the ASA ruling on Mya’s Love Island adverts the same way as most people in the UK, in a 10 second clip during BBC Newsbeat. The organisation I run got ITV to commit to reviewing these ads back in July. We launched and won our campaign in three weeks with 25,000 email addresses and a £5,000 budget.

We generated weeks of negative media for ITV in traditional outlets like The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Daily Mail as well as Stylist, gal-dem and The Pool. Jameela Jamil supported the campaign on her Instagram. And then BBC Breakfast’s Steph McGovern grilled Carolyn McCall about Love Island advertising on results day and she agreed to meet us to hear our concerns.

The ASA isn’t just late to this particular party. It was never invited. It moves far too slowly to protect women and girls’ wellbeing. And it was designed to regulate an industry that no longer exists.

Sluggish rulings like this mean very little in the social media age, where a hit show like Love Island is not just on TV, but on Twitter, Instagram and a slickly designed smartphone app. That’s why the organisation I run, Level Up, doesn’t bother to engage with the ASA. We go to brands direct.

The verdict itself is tone deaf and misses the point of our campaign. The 3,000 feminists who bombarded ITV executives with personal emails about Love Island advertising are not anti-cosmetic surgery. They’re not anti-Love Island. They are opposed to a media owner like ITV, which engages and entertains millions of people putting companies like Mya on the ITV Hub.

The ASA’s verdict says the adverts trivialise the decision to undergo surgery. That may be the case, but when Superdrug is offering cosmetic procedures for as little as a hundred pounds in your lunch break, a boob job is increasingly trivial. What is more concerning to me is the the talented commercial team behind a ratings juggernaut like Love Island thought selling ad space to Mya was worth the risk. It’s a sign the industry has a bigger problem.

It is now the responsibility of companies like ITV to choose commercial partners that respect the health and well-being of viewers. ASA regulations are the floor, not the ceiling of what customers expect. I expect brands to live up to their values and not the letter of the law when it comes to marketing products to women.

If you read the same trend reports that I do, you know that #MeToo and #TimesUp are the tip of an iceberg. Modern marketing needs to be close to the consumer. And women are tired of being sold products by companies that don’t respect them. The next wave of feminist activism is here and it will mobilise millions in record time. I launched Level Up in January and we had 400 supporters. In 10 months we have grown to represent 40,000 people from across the UK.

Our members are digitally savvy, engaged with popular culture, and can launch and win a campaign on social media in 48 hours. In fact, many of them work in marketing and social media. When one of our community was harassed on the tube by a man uploading a video of her eating to Facebook, thousands of people reported the Facebook group and started uploading selfies under the hashtag letuseat to Instagram. Before we could reach out to the company for a meeting the man running the group 'Women Eating on Tubes' hastily rebranded it so as not to breach Facebook’s community guidelines. We’re already planning the next phase of the campaign.

What does this mean for marketers? Live your brand values or face the consequences. If you spout a load of rubbish about caring about customers but ignore their concerns we will hold you to account even if you are within the law. In the post-ASA landscape reputation management is more important than ever. But your best bet is to listen to women. Especially the ones you employ.

Carys Afoko is executive director of campaign group Level Up

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