Who: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Samsung Electronics (UK) Ltd (Samsung)
Where: United Kingdom
When: 20 July 2022
Law stated as at: 5 August 2022
Last April, Samsung published its TV and cinema “Night Owls” ad for the Samsung Smart Watch. The ads featured a woman waking up in her bed at 2am before getting up and going for a run through the streets of a large city, while wearing wireless earbuds.
The ASA received a total of 27 complaints to Samsung’s ads from those who noted the number of recent high-profile cases where women had been attacked in similar circumstances. The complainants challenged whether the ads were irresponsible and harmful by encouraging an unsafe practice.
In response, Samsung issued an apology and acknowledged that the ads might have been perceived as insensitive to some viewers, given recent tragic events. It confirmed it would not show the ads again in the UK. However, it did emphasise that the ads were not intended to encourage women to go running at night, only to celebrate “individuality and demonstrate the use of Samsung products when exercising, whatever the time of day”. Clearcast also stressed that their decision was that to not clear the ads would place the fault for violence on female runners, rather than on the perpetrators. If the ads were to be banned, it could also “set a precedent for wider victim blaming, making it difficult to assess future ads”. This approach was also supported by the Cinema Advertising Association. Samsung did, however, welcome clarity from the ASA on whether the ads breached advertising codes.
In its ruling, the ASA acknowledged the sensitivities surrounding the recent high-profile cases involving women being fatally attacked whilst out jogging or out alone at night. Though it recognised that some care would need to be taken when going for a run alone in the middle of the night, particularly for women, it noted that the woman shown in the ads appeared alert and aware of her surroundings, and was seen running in well-lit, main streets where other people were present.
The ASA considered, therefore, that the woman was not shown behaving recklessly or obviously placing herself in danger in the ads. Running alone at night, of itself, was not likely to result in harm or injury and, while an attack could happen, that would be outside of a person’s control and could also happen in other everyday scenarios and at all times of day and night.
As such, the ASA concluded that the ads did not encourage an unsafe practice and were not irresponsible.
Why this matters:
Samsung’s ads were cleared by the ASA and found not to be in breach of advertising codes. However, this demonstrates the sensitivity required from advertisers when dealing with equality or gender-based issues. The attacks and murders of women alone at night have prompted a justified outcry against gender-based violence in the UK. Advertisers should be sensitive to the impact that their ads may have given these current circumstances.