Advertising: Car Companies Are Hitting the Net at High Speed to Escape Censure ; the Lack of Restrictions on What Can Be Shown Is a Nightmare for the Advertising Standards Authority

By Nicholas, Simon | The Independent (London, England), December 6, 2004 | Go to article overview
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Advertising: Car Companies Are Hitting the Net at High Speed to Escape Censure ; the Lack of Restrictions on What Can Be Shown Is a Nightmare for the Advertising Standards Authority


Nicholas, Simon, The Independent (London, England)


They say rules are there to be broken. And nowhere is such an adage more likely to be followed than in adland, where ingenuity in circumventing such obstacles is widely seen as a virtue.

In the latest example, motor industry marketeers have dumbfounded the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) by going online to promote the speeding dream machines that are, in effect, banned from being shown on television commercials.

The superb BMW series of films, collectively titled The Hire and exclusively run on the internet, featured speeding cars at virtually every turn. While at pains to stress that the films - one of which starred Madonna and was directed by her husband, Guy Ritchie - were exactly that, and not ads, most aficionados are in agreement that they highlighted the power, speed and sexiness of BMWs in a way that they could never emulate on the tightly-regulated box.

Shaun McIlrath, creative director of the advertising agency Heresy says: "More and more car manufacturers are turning to the internet to market their products because they can showcase them in a way that better reflects their attributes. While the ASA codes are not that prohibitive, they certainly do not encourage or even allow the main demonstration of automobile's oft most sought-after attribute - its speed." Indeed, the rules state that "advertisements for cars, motorbikes or other automotive products must not encourage or condone fast or irresponsible driving nor refer to speeds over 70mph".

But it is not solely a problem of content that is encouraging more and more car marketers to spend so much creative time and talent on the internet ads and websites. The editor of New Media Age, Michael Nutley says: "Research has shown that around 70 per cent of people thinking of purchasing a car look online. The ease of access, either at work or home, and the ability to shop around quickly and relatively anonymously has certainly incentivised many to use the Net." McIlrath agrees and adds that women have probably benefited most from the internet. He says: "Advanced product information is no longer the sole reserve of hairy-arsed blokes who sit on the loo with 20 copies of AutoBoffin. Anyone can access detailed facts online and feel far less intimidated when approaching dealerships."

Adherence to the ASA code could have brought about the indistinguishable car ads that we see on TV - that, and the globalisation of ad campaigns, where one creative execution has to service every market. Chris Hughes, creative director of the marketing agency WAA says: "TV ads for cars have become virtually impossible to differentiate. So homogenised and formulaic have become the executions that the consumer finds it hard to make an informed decision based on the brand advertising."

Most TV car ads adhere to the doctrine of ensuring both an emotional and practical attachment can be made between the viewer and the car - the left brain, right brain analogy. So a beautiful backdrop, where the car meanders round a mountainside or across a desert, is mixed with a fact-and-figure session. Either way, the ads are designed to encompass as wide and disparate an audience as possible. The internet offers the antithesis of this.

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Advertising: Car Companies Are Hitting the Net at High Speed to Escape Censure ; the Lack of Restrictions on What Can Be Shown Is a Nightmare for the Advertising Standards Authority
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