Once more, car advertisers are in the pits over references to the fun of driving performance cars. OK, it might have been slightly over the top to talk about “opposite lock,” but is it really so naughty to refer to ‘potent acceleration.’?
Who: MG Rover Group Limited and Audi
Where: The Advertising Standards Authority
When: July/August 2004
Two car advertisers were recently in the dock, facing complaints that their advertising condoned driving at excessive speeds and thereby encouraged irresponsible or reckless driving.
MG "opposite lock" reference
The MG advertising was in the Sunday Times, for the MGZ T260 V8. The headline stated "The new MGZ T260 V8. Experienced players only". The body copy continued "Remember opposite lock? the endorphins? Well, the thrill is back with a sophisticated twist. The new MGZ T260 V8 is the ultimate sports saloon experience – and now its edgier than ever before. An awesome 4.6 litre V8 engine delivers 260 PS at 5,000 rpm and 410 Nm of torque. That translates to an electronically limited top speed of 155 miles per hour and phenomenal 0-60 acceleration in just 6.2 seconds. Add one of the most advanced suspension systems in its class, outstanding body stiffness to give incredible handling and cornering ability and the rear wheel drive engineering of the genuine sports set up and you will understand that this car is definitely not for the faint hearted. The new MGZ T260 V8: it separates the men. Think you can handle it?"
The complainant particularly objected to the line "It separates the men. Think you can handle it?" which seemed to him to be irresponsible because it encouraged reckless driving.
MG Rover defended the ad saying they believed it communicated the overall driving experience not just the car's performance elements. They said they believed the line "experienced players only" and the reference to the car having rear wheel drive, which they believed required a higher standard of driving, showed that they had targeted the advertisement responsibly as well as adding a cautionary note.
The ASA disagreed, saying that the phrase "opposite lock" was a term used to describe deliberate use of oversteer and involved turning a vehicle rapidly without losing momentum. The relevant copy therefore implied that it was exciting to speed around corners. The ASA also considered that the lines "experienced players only," "not for the faint hearted" and "it separates the men. Think you can handle it?" implied that the car was for those who enjoyed speeding.
The complaint was upheld as encouraging speeding and reckless driving.
Audi "potent acceleration" copy
The Audi 3 claims were in a mailing promoting a test drive. The centre page spread showed a road map with the A5 outlined with the words "the perfect place to test drive a 3.2 V6. The A5 from Weston-under-Lizards to Horsebrook. 10 kilometres of dead straight tarmac and a 3.2 V6 with potent acceleration. The perfect match".
In defence the advertisers believed that the centre page spread merely pointed out the road conditions in which it would be safe to accelerate, such as on a perfectly straight road. It did not believe the ad promoted driving at excessive speed or suggested accelerating beyond the speed limit. It said "potent acceleration" could be 0-30 miles per hour or 0-50 miles per hour. For its part the ASA considered that the claim "10 kilometres of dead straight tarmac and a 3.2 V6 with potent acceleration" encouraged acceleration over a long stretch of road and concluded that the centre page spread could be seen to condone excessive speed and thereby encourage irresponsible driving.
The complaint was upheld.
Why this matters:
Here on marketinglaw.co.uk, we have often taken the ASA to task over what we regard as its excessively restrictive view of what can and cannot be said in car advertising about the car's performance.
In the case of the Audi mailing, there seems to have been some issue over the CAP copy advice team approving one version of the advertisement without the reference to "potent acceleration" and Audi adding this phrase in at a later stage. With or without those words however, it seems slightly harsh to castigate as encouraging excessive speeding and irresponsible driving a communication which merely suggests that test driving the car being advertised on a particular road would be to combine 10 kilometres of dead straight tarmac and a 3.2 V6 with potent acceleration.
The MG Rover case is perhaps slightly more difficult, but this, like the Audi case, begs the question of whether the medium being used should be taken into account. The ASA readily does this in other cases involving for instance the possible giving of offence. Should the rules be exactly the same for a targeted mailing for potential Audi A3 buyers as they are for a full page ad in Nuts?