Supermodel Naomi Campbell reacted badly to what she saw as an unauthorised reference to her in an ad for a Cadbury’s chocolate bar. The ASA reached a verdict and Cadbury responded to Ms Campbell. Which was more surprising? Asks Lauren Saunders.
Topic: People in advertising
Who: Naomi Campbell and Cadbury
When: 21 June 2011
Law stated as at: 1 July 2011
A humorous or witty advert is an effective way to catch the attention of the consumer. But when does a harmless dig move to the wrong side of the line and become offensive towards the subject or a sector of society?
This question arose recently in the context of a Cadbury’s billboard campaign for their chocolate bar ‘Bliss’.
The subject of concern was the use of the strap line ‘move over Naomi, there’s a new diva in town’.
Some regarded this as a racial slur, thinking it compared Ms Campbell to chocolate due to her skin colour. Four complaints were made to the Advertising Standards Authority, including from Operation Black Vote.
Ms Campbell stated "I am shocked. It's upsetting to be described as chocolate, not just for me, but for all black women and black people. I do not find any humour in this. It is insulting and hurtful."
Cadbury argued that the advert had no link with the colour of Ms Campbell’s skin. On the 3rd of June, however, they published a public apology and withdrew the advert after seeking legal advice.
This followed threats by Operation Black Vote of a boycott. Cadbury stated: ‘It was not our intention that the campaign should offend Naomi, her family or anybody else and we are sincerely sorry that it has done so.’
Decision of the ASA
The CAP Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing states at 4.1 that:
"Marketing communications must not contain anything which is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Particular care must be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age."
However, in this case the ASA found that the advert did not breach code as ‘the advert was likely to be understood to refer to Naomi Campbell's reputation for ‘diva-style’ behaviour rather than her race’. As such it was deemed not to ‘cause serious or widespread offence’.
Why this matters:
This case clearly indicates the need for sensitivity when referencing well know personalities in advertisements. Despite the finding of the ASA that it was not in breach of the CAP Code, the advertising generated considerable publicity, much of which was sympathetic to Ms Campbell, followed by a climbdown and fulsome apology from Cadbury.
Some might have said that given the reputation of the redoubtable supermodel, virtually any reference to her in advertising without her consent could be virtually guaranteed to lead to her complaining and attendant publicity, regardless of whether any breach of codes or laws had been committed.
So far as the law is concerned, it seems unlikely that in context, Ms Campbell would have had an arguable passing off claim, for example, as the strapline by definition distances her from the product. Be that as it may, however, did Cadbury's seriously expect this ad to pass without Ms Campbell and others complaining? We will probably never know.
Work Experience Student
Osborne Clarke London