Cadburys’ four TV ads launching Trident chewing gum had a pronounced Caribbean flavour, but it wasn’t the gum and no less than 519 complaints winged in. What could have provoked such a storm of protest and what was the ASA’s verdict? Veena Srinivasan chews over the issues.
Topic: Taste and Decency
Who: Cadbury Trebor Bassett Services Limited trading as Cadburys
Where: Advertising Standards Authority, London
When: 28 March 2007
Following an adverse ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), Cadbury has been forced to pull a £10 million TV and cinema campaign for Trident chewing gum.
In 2003, Cadbury had reportedly paid the US chewing gum company, Adams, £2.7 billion for the Trident brand. Cadbury had acquired the Trident brand and, in order to make some inroads into 90% plus share of the chewing gum market, held by Wrigleys, invested £10 million behind Trident UK launch.
JWT created 4 TV ads and one cinema ad for Cadbury, which generated 519 complaints. Two of the TV ads and the cinema ad feature a dub poet character with a strong Caribbean accent, which is played by a black man. The third and fourth TV ads feature a white woman and a white man, respectively, who each speak with a strong Caribbean accent. Cadburys explained that this campaign was supposed to depict a "gum revolution", hence the tag line "mastication for the nation", which is instigated by the dub poet character and then spread by the characters in the third and fourth ads.
The ASA received the following three complaints:
1. Viewers, including Ligali, a UK non profit organisation, which campaigns for cultural, economic, political and social justice on behalf of the British African community, complained that the TV ads were offensive and racist, because they believed they showed offensive stereotypes and ridiculed black and/or Caribbean people.
2. One viewer challenged whether the cinema ad was offensive and racist, because he believed it promoted the stereotype of black Caribbean people having particular accents and mannerisms.
3. Some viewers challenged whether the TV ads were offensive and insensitive, as the Met Police's "black-on-black" gun crime initiative was known as Trident.
In relation to the third complaint, the ASA accepted Cadbury's submission that the Trident brand was a global one that had been around for over 40 years. It concluded that, although some individuals may be offended by use of the name "Trident", it was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.
The Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre (BACC) explained that it had been satisfied that the TV ads were not designed to humiliate or stigmatise any particular group and, instead, were intended to be humorous.
Similarly, the Cinema Advertising Association (CAA) said that it did not consider the ad to be offensive.
The ASA concluded that the TV ads breached the following rules of the CAP (Broadcast) TV Advertising Standards Code:
6.1 Advertisements must not cause serious or widespread offence against generally accepted moral, social or cultural standards, or offend against public feeling.
6.6 Advertisements must not prejudice respect for human dignity or humiliate, stigmatise or undermine the standing of identifiable groups of people.
It also concluded that the cinema ad was in breach of the following rules of the CAP Code:
5.1 Marketing communications should contain nothing that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Particular care should be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of race, religion, sex, sexual orientation or disability. Compliance with the Code will be judged on the context, medium, audience, product and prevailing standards of decency.
5.2 Marketing communications may be distasteful without necessarily conflicting with 5.1 above. Marketers are urged to consider public sensitivities before using potentially offensive material.
The complaints indicated that a significant minority considered a) the dub poet character's exaggerated behaviour and strong accent to be a humiliating and negative depiction of black and/or Caribbean people; and b) these viewers also found the white characters' imitation of the mannerisms and Caribbean accent to be demeaning to people of black and/or Caribbean heritage.
In the ASA's opinion, many viewers had not interpreted the ads as Cadbury had intended them to; a portrayal of a revolution in chewing gum.
The ASA advises that marketers should take great care when using stereotypes in ads to ensure that the ads do not feed prejudice, particularly when relying on the use of accent, nationality and colour. It emphasised that the use of an accent to generate humour, should be treated with sensitivity, as it had the potential to be seen as patronising or demeaning and, thus, to cause serious offence.
Accordingly, the ASA held that the stereotype depicted in the ads had unintentionally caused deep offence to a significant minority. However, the ASA did accept that the ads did not incite racial intolerance or discrimination on the basis of race.
Why this matters:
Prior to the launch of the campaign, Cadbury had conducted research, as part of which, views from the general population and representatives of the British African-Caribbean community were sought. It appears that this research had indicated that around one in five of the British African-Caribbean sample interviewed, had found the ads offensive. It is surprising that Cadbury went ahead in spite of these warning signals.
But what is the likely impact of this adjudication, as Trevor Robinson, chair of the IPA Ethnic Diversity Group states in the 5 April edition of Campaign:
"My worry is that this implies you can't use a black person with a certain accent in a certain way or even that you can't show any nationality using a 'stereotypical' accent'. Often, banned ads mark a change for better or worse. Where will these ads take use? Hopefully a step forward in raising the profile of positive racial representation."
Osborne Clarke London