Who: BMW (UK) Ltd, Advertising Standards Authority
Where: The Twittersphere
When: 17 September 2014
Law stated as at: 1 October 2014
Famous blue-and-white badged Bavarian car manufacturer BMW’s UK division recently ran a social media campaign promoting its M235i coupé on equally famous blue-and-white badged website Twitter. As part of the campaign BMW posted a tweet on its feed stating:
“Capable of 0-62mph in just 4.8 seconds, the new #BMW M235i promises you one hell of a ride”.
This was also published as a promoted tweet (i.e. via Twitter’s paid advertising service).
Both tweets also featured a photograph of a red BMW turning a corner, with the background of the image blurred.
Following publication of this tweet a Twitter user complained to the UK’s advertising regulator, the Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”). The complaint was that the image, the reference to acceleration and the phrase “one hell of a ride” was socially irresponsible as it encouraged viewers of the tweet to speed, and made acceleration the central message of the advert.
Highway Code v CAP Code
When handling a complaint about a non-broadcast advertisement (into which category tweets fall), the ASA refers to the Committee of Advertising Practice’s CAP Code. The rules in the code engaged here were 19.2, 19.3 and 19.4.
These state that: marketing communications must not condone or encourage unsafe or irresponsible driving (19.2); must not depict speed in a way that might encourage motorists to drive irresponsibly or break the law (19.3); and must not have speed or acceleration as the main message (19.4).
Regulation road test
So, how did the ASA apply this to the facts? In its defence, BMW argued that the tweet and picture did not encourage motorists to drive unsafely, irresponsibly or break the law. Instead, the tweet simply stated the acceleration statistics of the car, along with a message “to communicate the driving dynamics of the M235i”, and the picture implied “some movement” rather than excessive speed.
The ASA had some sympathy with these arguments, noting that the highest speed quoted in the tweet was 62mph and the blurred background, while clearly indicating movement, did not depict excessive speed. The regulator felt that nothing in the advertisement would give encouragement to drivers to exceed the speed limit, break the law or drive irresponsibly, and accordingly ruled that there was no breach of rule 19.2 or rule 19.3.
However, the ASA found that the focus of the tweet was on speed and acceleration, which is prohibited under rule 19.4 of the CAP Code. This was due to the cumulative effect of stating the acceleration statistics, immediately followed by the phrase “one hell of a ride”, and the image of a moving car. They disagreed with BMW’s submissions that the acceleration statistics were simply there to highlight the driving characteristics of the car, and that the driving characteristics (i.e. “one hell of a ride”) were therefore the main message. BMW were told to withdraw the advert in its current form, and to ensure that future ads did not make speed and acceleration their main focus.
Why this matters:
• This adjudication is a reminder that acceleration and speed must not be the main focus of advertisements for motor vehicles. Advertisers in the relevant sector should familiarise themselves with the CAP guidance on adverts for cars and other motor vehicles. This guidance highlights that focussing on acceleration and speed is in fact the area of the CAP Code most frequently breached by car ads.
• The CAP guidance gives useful advice on what is and is not acceptable: “Marketers are … unlikely to get away with approaches that combine blurred images (whether background, the vehicle itself or its wheels) and… [claims which refer to or allude to speed]… as these are likely to result in speed being the predominant message“. Marketers should also note that CAP considers that animated images or video clips of moving cars may “make the impression of speed more striking”, and are therefore likely to increase the risk further.
• While this point was not dealt with by the ASA in its adjudication, including items referring to speed and/or acceleration in an advert may carry a particular risk when dealing with a limited-space medium such as Twitter. When the entire advert is limited to 140 characters, such references will almost inevitably form a larger portion of the advert (and may therefore be more likely to be deemed the “main message”) than might be the case in a traditional advertising channel such as print.
• Following this train of thought, word order should also be considered when planning Twitter campaigns. It seems unlikely that the acceleration statistics being the opening words of the tweet helped BMW’s argument that this was not the main message.