First the ITC sees implied threats of male rape in a humorous TV ad featuring a naked stag night reveller and a camp dog walker, then the ASA clears the same ad for unrestricted cinema use.
Who:Yahoo! Personal Finance, The ITC and The Advertising Standards AuthorityWhen:January and February 2003
Statutory TV ad regulator the Independent Television Commission (ITC) and the self-regulatory non broadcast ad watchdog The Advertising Standards Authority have in the space of the last few weeks perfectly made the case for a unified system of ad regulation in the UK.
The ad in question was for Yahoo! Personal Finance. It was a commercial for TV and cinema in which, after a stag night, a man finds himself in the cold light of morning naked and tied to a tree in a park. "A "Quentin Crisp" type character approaches, casts an admiring look at the reveller and they exchange nods and, in the case of the "stagger", nervous smiles, while the voiceover continues "You can't trust the kindness of strangers".
In respect of the TV broadcasts of the ad, complaints were received by the ITC that it displayed homophobic tendencies, even suggesting a threat of criminal male rape and the ITC agreed, ordering the ad off-air. Indeed it is now fulminating against some broadcasters for failing to stop broadcasts of the ads promptly after the adjudication.
So far as cinema screenings of the ads were concerned, by a quirk in the regulatory system, the relevant watchdog was not the ITC, but the Advertising Standards Authority.
Here, in response to the same complaints, Yahoo! argued that the lack of "kindness of strangers" to which the ad was referring was not lack of kindness on the part of the "Quentin Crisp" type character and his attitude to the stagger, but the lack of kindness of the stagger's chums in leaving him in that condition in the park. The advertisers did not deny that the "Quentin Crisp" character appeared fairly flamboyant and camp, with a maroon hat, patterned scarf and glasses hung round his neck, but in tests with qualitative groups, no one had apparently seen the sequences as anything other than light-hearted.
In its refreshingly enlightened adjudication, the ASA took the view that although some of the gay community objected to such a camp presentation of their sexuality "this was a matter of opinion and style and not a matter of widespread or serious offence". Also, they did not descry from the action (contrary to the findings of the ITC) that there was any indication from the Quentin Crisp character's reaction to the naked man that he intended to sexually assault him.
Why this matters:
Whatever one's view as to the rights or wrongs of the ITC and ASA decisions on this, and marketing law certainly favours the more relaxed view of the ASA. the fact remains that a single piece of advertising has been accepted for dissemination in one mainstream UK medium without even a movie certification "watershed", whilst another medium has ordered that it be totally banned from the airwaves.
In last month's marketinglaw we reported on an ITC U-turn in respect of an ad showing a George Bush cartoon character. We commented there that this only added further justification to the impending OFCOM blanket approach to the regulation commercial communications across most media. So far there appears to be no suggestion that the OFCOM regime will imminently extend to cinema advertising, but there seems little justification for screen and TV ads being differently regulated.