Magazine article Marketing

Double Standards

Magazine article Marketing

Double Standards

Article excerpt

Why is a shock ad more likely to be censored than a shocking TV programme?

Just one viewer has complained to Ofcom about Sky One's controversial US drama Nip/Tuck, even though it has been graphically depicting sex, plastic surgery and drug-taking at 9pm every Tuesday for the past ten weeks, and attracted a million viewers for its UK debut.

When Sex Pistol John Lydon berated the 12 million viewers of I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here as 'fucking c***s' for not voting him off the programme, ITV got away without even a rap across the knuckles.

Similarly, a trailer for Channel 4's Sex and the City passed unremarked, despite depicting a woman who had apparently just performed oral sex on a man saying 'It gives a whole new meaning to eating in'.

But a Wrigley ad for its Xcite chewing-gum brand, which showed a man appearing to vomit up a dog, was taken off air last March by then regulating body the Independent Television Commission (ITC). The Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO ad provoked 863 complaints, earning it the dubious distinction of the UK's most complained-about TV ad of all time.

A Pot Noodle execution by HHCL that featured the strapline 'The slag of all snacks', meanwhile, was banned by the ITC until after the watershed.

And last week an ad for Channel 4 featuring celebrities saying their favourite swearwords was rejected by the Cinema Advertising Association for its nine uses of the word c***, despite the fact that it was intended for over-18s.

This growing discrepancy between shocking programme content getting away scot-free and the heavy censorship of advertising has led some to suggest the latter is the victim of a broadcasting double standard.

Raoul Pinnell, vice-president, global brand and communications at Shell, feels so strongly about the issue that he commissioned Billetts to carry out some research, which he revealed at the annual conference of the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA) earlier this month.

Taking the blame

Pinnell is concerned that despite its strong system of self-regulation, advertising still gets the blame for a lot of society's ills. As he points out, rises in smoking, drug and alcohol abuse, violence, crime and abusive language are far more likely to stem from the kind of behaviour seen on TV in Coronation Street, EastEnders or The Bill than they are to be influenced by advertising.

'There is a danger that we have created a regulated adland that pays for the promotion of a wide range of behaviour in programmes, for which advertising gets the blame,' he says.

Broadcast advertising is subject to regulation, as laid out in the Broadcasting Act 1990 and the Communications Act 2003, under provisions set by the ITC Advertising Standards Code and the Radio Authority Advertising and Sponsorship Code, both of which now fall under the Ofcom umbrella. Broadcast ads are pre-vetted either by the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre or the Radio Advertising Clearance Centre.

All non-broadcast ads must comply with the self-regulatory Committee of Advertising Practice Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing, which is enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

Programme content, formerly within the remit of the ITC and Broadcasting Standards Committee, is also now regulated by Ofcom.

The traditional defence for the different regulatory approaches is that consumers have different expectations of programming and advertising, and that viewers know what to expect when they tune in to a TV show, but can be surprised by the ads.

'Advertising is the televisual equivalent of a door-to-door salesman - it is slightly intrusive and we resent the fact that it is trying to flog us something,' says Ian Blair, head of advertising in the content and standards group at Ofcom. 'But that only really matters when an ad is 'edgy' in some way. …

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