Who: French Administrative Court (Tribunal Admnistratif), Béziers town hall
When: 20 November 2018
Law stated as at: 29 November 2018
The French administrative court dismissed claims from women’s rights groups that an advertisement depicting a woman tied to the tracks with the caption “With the TGV she would have suffered less!” promoted or condoned violence against women. The advertisement was part of a local campaign to get high-speed trains (“TGVs“) into the area of French town of Béziers last year. The women’s rights groups also claimed the ad was highly offensive in light of a tragic incident four months ago, when a woman in Northern France, Emilie Hallouin, died after her partner tied her to railroad tracks.
The French equality minister called for full investigation of the advertisement. Robert Ménard, the mayor of Béziers who also helped spearhead the campaign, claimed it had no relation to Emilie Hallouin’s death, and instead was reminiscent of common historical pictures and cartoons.
The administrative court said that although the advertisement included “doubtful and provocative” humour, the claims brought forward could not be upheld on the basis that:
- the advertisement was not a promotion of violence against women as it did not target a particular characteristic or type of person. The ruling also referred to the four other posters related to the campaign, which were aimed at provoking reactions from its viewers; and
- the advertisement did not make reference to Emilie Hallouin’s murder, and the court stated that the ads were reminiscent of old, unrealistic Western-style imagery.
The advertisements have now since been removed, as Béziers town hall claimed they had fulfilled their purpose to draw media and public attention to its campaign.
Why this matters:
Social responsibility in ads has become more of a hot-topic issue for brands in recent years. Although the French court ultimately dismissed the claim, this matter has reached international press and has had a sizeable impact on the TGV brand. Some advertisers, particularly those who deal with consumer products and services, may view the Béziers town hall’s campaign as unacceptably risky, as such brands rely on consumer goodwill to sustain long-term success.
Secondly, the case highlights the varying standards for social responsibility in advertisements across different jurisdictions. In the UK, the Advertising Standards Authority launched a public consultation on tackling harmful gender stereotypes in ads and has prioritised these issues for the coming year and advertisements in this area may face extra scrutiny from the press and the advertising regulator as a result.