Who: General Motors UK Ltd t/a Vauxhall, ASA
When: 13th March 2013
Law stated as at: 26th March 2013
With the potential to cause harm by condoning or encouraging anti-social, dangerous or irresponsible behaviour, marketing communications for motor vehicles have to meet several CAP code rules.
In the “Motoring” section 19 of the CAP Code, 19.2 for example states that marketing communications must not condone or encourage
unsafe or irresponsible driving.
In this case, the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) scrutinised an ad for the Vauxhall Astra VXR following a complainant regarding
the commercial’s potential for condoning and encouraging speeding and dangerous driving. The advert was alleged to be irresponsible for this reason.
The advertisement in question was a poster. It advertised the Vauxhall Astra VXR and showed two of these, stationary, in an empty
The text stated: “ASTRA VXR Shortens Straights. Straightens Corners”.
Confronted with the challenge to the ASA, Vauxhall’s parent
company General Motors (GM) responded by pointing out that both cars in the ad were deliberately shown stationary. No suggestion relating to speed could arise. Additionally, the footer at the bottom of the ad explicitly states “Vauxhall does not condone irresponsible driving”.
The slogan “Shortens Straights. Straightens Corners” mentioned neither speed, quickness or any other term, the advertiser said, which could be associated with driving quickly or dangerously. The strap-line could therefore not be read in any way that encouraged such behaviour. On the contrary: “Straightens Corners” referred
to the chassis technology, used on the advertised model, which provided safer cornering. In the end the wording was meant to advertise one of the features which increased the safety of the model in the ad.
The ASA upheld the complaint.
Considering the CAP Code requires marketers not to make speed or acceleration the main message of their ads, the ASA noted that the slogan “Shortens Straights. Straightens Corners” was featured in large text and was therefore the main strap-line of the ad.
The ASA pointed out that especially “Shortens Straights” would be interpreted to mean that the car made straight stretches of road
shorter by covering them more quickly. The regulator therefore rejected GM ‘s submissions on this phrase, which stressed that rather than over emphasising speed, the expression was intended to highlight the fact that due to the Flex-Ride Suspension and the Watts-Link rear suspension design, the vehicle was adapted to varying road surfaces and could give the feeling of shortening the straights of the journey.
The ASA felt that the two words “Shortens straights” made speed the main message, thereby condoning irresponsible driving and breaking the Code.
The ad therefore breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 (Social responsibility) and 19.2, 19.3 and 19.4 (Motoring).
Why this matters:
Although this decision appears harsh, it emphasises the strict view the ASA has tended to take on this issue in recent years. Car advertisers must therefore be particularly vigilant not to include even
indirect references to speed in a headline.
Also, based on this verdict, disclaimers stating that the advertiser does not condone irresponsible driving are unlikely to cut any ice if otherwise a different message can be seen to be conveyed elsewhere in the marketing communication.