Does It Offend You, Yeah?
Earlier this year the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) published the ten most complained about adverts of 2016– a mixture of men dancing in heels, two women kissing and a footballer kicking a cat. Usually complaints come from the public feeling misled. If deemed deceitful, the ASA will ban the offending ads. Simples.
None of 2016’s most complained about ads were viewed as misleading. Instead critics called them offensive, with reasons ranging from ‘homophobic’ (MoneySuperMarket) to ‘racist’ (Paddy Power). Despite the criticism, none were seen by the ASA to ‘cross the line between bad taste and offence’ and weren’t banned.
In a world of alternative facts and fake news it’s important that a body like the ASA exists. It’s there to stop harmful advertising, ensuring ads are ‘legal, honest, decent and truthful’. If a complaint about an advert is upheld, the advertiser must withdraw or amend it.
And it truly is a complaint – it just takes one for an ad to be judged and banned. All ASA adjudications are published, and last year they banned thousands of ads for being misleading.
So why were the top ten ads (earning 4,872 complaints combined) not deemed ban-worthy? Is the ASA too laidback? Are we too easily-offended? I think it’s likely the latter. 2016 gave us a multitude of things to get upset about (depending on which side you’re on) – Brexit, Trump, Brangelina, Southern Rail, Harambe and even a £5 note. Maybe we’re used to complaining.
Of course, it’s not mutually exclusive. You can be offended by GBK’s ads and classed as a ‘remoaner’ (maybe you enjoy complaining about Trump too, knock yourself out). The problem I have is the difference between being offended by an ad which mocks a diet choice, and moral outrage at a president that is arguably racist and sexist (amongst other things).
A pretty big difference, if you ask me.
So it turns out that I’m offended. I’m offended by how easily-offended people seem to be. It has never been easier for us to be publicly outraged. Social media allows any of us to voice our opinion at any given time – and lets others (who might not have even seen the offending subject) hear us.
Humour is, and always will be, subjective. One (wo)man’s shock is another’s snort. You don’t get to decide someone else’s intentions – they do. Offence is taken, not given.
Let’s take the most complained about ad – Money Supermarket’s ‘Gary the Bodyguard’.
The ASA said:
“We received complaints Gary’s dance moves were overtly sexual and not suitable to be seen by children. While acknowledging some viewers may have found the dance moves distasteful, we judged the ad wouldn’t cause serious or widespread offence to viewers and the ad was generally likely to be interpreted in a humorous manner.”
If you saw a suited man dancing on the street like this, would you be offended?
Would you be so offended that you’d make sure you let him know you were offended?
Probably not. You’d probably laugh. Maybe tell your friends about it. Maybe film it.
At worst it’s odd, at best it’s funny.
The most complained ad of all time (1,671 complaints) was back in 2005 – KFC’s Chicken Zinger. It featured call centre workers singing with their mouths full of food. Critics said it could encourage children to have bad manners. I’ll let you be the judge.
You have the right to be offended by an ad, and you’re welcome to report it to the ASA. Just don’t abuse that privilege. Otherwise, you’ll probably hear me complaining about it.
Media & Marketing Account Executive
Here’s the top ten:
5) Paddy Power
6) Smart Energy GB
7) Paddy Power
8) Home Office
9) Gourmet Burger King (GBK)