Currently, the media seems to love publishing news about advertising complaints. In the last few days, 3 complaints have caught my eye.
First up, Waitrose: The squeaky clean supermarket chain suffered it’s first ban over an ad talking about ‘outdoor bred’ pigs. According to Brand Republic, people complained about the TV ads, both of which featured celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal talking to farmers about livestock. Blumenthal appears outdoors with the pigs from the farm and says "In my opinion, some of the best-tasting pork comes from British pigs that have been outdoor bred, just like these porkers from Norfolk".
Complainants argued that the ads misleadingly implied that Waitrose pork came from pigs that spent the duration of their lives outdoors, whereas in reality they were reared indoors.
Waitrose countered that the ads stipulated that the pigs were "outdoor bred", arguing that it was a standard term that had become widely used and that consumers would be able to differentiate its meaning from "outdoor reared".
Then there is a Kodak ad that rival brand HP complained about. Brand Republic said the ads aimed to attract customers by promoting savings on Kodak printer ink.
The press ad proclaimed: "Switch to a Kodak all-in-one printer and you’ll save an average of £75 a year on ink."
But HP argued that the ads were misleading and questioned whether they could be substantiated.
Kodak responded by saying that its claim was based on a number of leading industry studies on home printing and small office printing – its claim was backed up by Clearcast, which vets TV ads before they are aired. But the advertising watchdog ruled in favour of HP on most counts, supporting its argument by concluding that the "1,500 pages" did not represent "a reasonable yearly print volume for most UK inkjet printer users". There were radio adverts too. They were allowed to be broadcast providing the claim was clarified more.
The Independent recently published a story about a radio ad for Ann Summers having "fairly overt sexual references in terms of sound effects". In this case, the Independent says the RACC ‘Blocked’ the ad, so I am wondering if the ad was actually made in the first case. If it was or wasn’t, Anne Summers will be no doubt be enjoying the publicity.
I am often surprised how few people it takes to get something withdrawn from transmission. The Waitrose ad would have been seen by millions of people, yet it took just four complaints to get the ad pulled. Yet this isn’t unusual. Sometimes I look at adjudications on complained-about ads and it’s not very often you see hundreds of people complaining about a single commercial.
So is it a case of do-gooders with too much time on their hands or are they right ? In my view, if something is blatantly wrong or misleading then it should not be broadcast. Having said that, the public are incredibly media savvy. In the ‘Watchdog Age’ we are living in, we have to accept some advertisers will always try and pull the wool over our eyes with puffery. That’s what advertising is and what it always be.
That’s why I’ll always prefer radio to TV. With radio, exaggerated claims are always very detectable. On TV, the real story is hidden with hard-to-see small print such as: ‘Enhanced in post production’, ‘Styled with natural extensions’, ‘141 women agree’. The list goes on.
In the past, I have complained about radio ads that I feel don’t stick to the rules. As a Commercial Producer, I consider that everyone should play on a level field and if someone is trying to get the upper hand by not sticking to the rules, their ad should be examined. But here are a couple of thoughts: The complaints procedure can sometimes take a while to reach it’s decision. That means the ad in question has the ability to run the length of it’s full campaign before being withdrawn from broadcast.
The other thing to consider is the publicity a banned ad can receive. Sometimes banning an ad will actually give it MORE exposure. So what’s the point of withdrawing it in the first place ?
With many brands wanting to get the upper hand during these tough times, they will want to stretch the rules as far as possible. I sincerely believe you don’t need underhand tactics to sell products and services. If the product or service is good in the first place, then it will sell itself.