Gory ads upset 'less offended' consumers

The public is increasingly alarmed by adverts that glamorise violence, aside from their ongoing concern about marketing that could cause offence to minority groups.

Such is the verdict of the advertising watchdog, which has published its annual report showing that a record number of adverts were complained about in the 12 months of 2006.

It says that while TV ads irk people the most, the internet is now the second most complained about non-broadcasting ad format, reflecting the stronger spotlight on the medium.

In fact, the number of complaints about online advertising increased by a third – “a rise unmatched by any other media,” the Advertising Standards Authority said yesterday.

Positively however, the regulator did hint that the industry may be learning from its past mistakes, as the number of adverts falling foul of the ASA code failed to increase.

A more widespread acceptance of the watchdog’s assessment of advertising was also implied, given that 2006 saw a 22% drop in the number of its rulings that were challenged.

When the public did voice their disproval to the authority, the figures show there was more than a 40% decline in those denouncing an advert because they thought it was “offensive.”

But the ASA noted “growing concern “ from consumers about ads that could be interpreted as glamorising violence, evidenced by two of the top ten most complained about ads of last year.

Dolce & Gabbana’ s UK press ad showed blooded models brandishing knives and, though it was highly stylised, was ruled to be ‘irresponsible’ for potentially glorifying knife-related crime.

Similarly, an ad for Motorola featuring a man wielding a knife over another man with a gash on his face was deemed by consumers to be socially irresponsible for encouraging violence.

Despite ranking as one of the most complained about adverts of the year, the ASA failed to uphold the complaints, citing the image as a pun to underline the tagline ‘the cutting edge of technology.’

Meanwhile complaints about French Connection's TV ad depicting a martial arts contest between two women, who end up kissing, were rejected, despite claims the embrace was offensive.

Also on Television, which attracted 8,594 complaints, an advert that appeared on Channel 5 with the strapline ‘Nothing good ever came out of America’ was, likewise, not in breach of the advertiser’s code.

Contrary to viewers’ claims , the message was unlikely to cause offence or incite violence, the ASA said, because the channel was being ironic, given it prides itself on celebrating US-made TV shows.

Chairman of the authority, Lord Borrie QC, used the launch of the report to call for industry to address the unprecedented rise in complaints about internet advertising.

He said: “Pleasingly, the proportion of ads falling foul of the advertising codes did not rise.

“[But] the Internet is now the second most complained about non-broadcast advertising format - a rise unmatched by any other media.

“Yet the boundaries of regulatory responsibility online are still unclear. The industry needs to address this issue quickly so that consumer faith in online messages can be as high as it is for advertising that appears in traditional form.”

The most complained about advert during 2006 was a national press ad for the Gay Police Association which featured a Bible next to a pool of blood.

The verdict of ‘misleading’ and ‘offensive’ was issued by the ad authority, after claims the image and tagline suggested homophobic attacks were religiously motivated.

Overall, adverts in the national press attracted 3,370 complaints; beating the 2,066 complaints filed against online adverts.

Adverts in direct mail attracted 1,592 complaints, beating the 1,443 complaints lodged about adverts on posters and billboards.


11th May 2007

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