Five marketing campaigns you won’t have seen (and why)
- 21 October 2019
As new ASA regulations claim their first victims, we look back at some of the most famous banned ads in recent history
A ban rarely achieves what it set out to do. When Alice Cooper’s ‘School’s Out’ was banned from being played on the radio, he knew he had a major hit on his hands. It was an early case of the Barbra Streisand effect, where the attempt to suppress information inadvertently leads to it becoming better publicised as a result.
In more recent times, marketing campaigns have used this tactic as well; whether it’s so-called ‘shockvertising’ or an intentional PR stunt. Yet, some advertisements are simply banned because of elementary mistakes in not seeing how they would create controversy. These were campaigns where banning wasn’t the intended tactic, but the product of a strategy that had just gone wrong. We look at some of the most famous examples.
At the height of Tom Hiddleston’s popularity – back in the days when he was tipped to be the next James Bond– he fronted an advertising campaign for the Jaguar F-Type Coupe. The ad, titled ‘The Art of Villainy’, saw Hiddleston talk about the attributes of good villains whilst driving the upscale model through an underground car park, all the while escaping from pursuers. There was more than a suggestion, to some, that he was breaking the speed limit whilst doing so and encouraging viewers to "drive like a villain".
Despite protestations from Jaguar that the car was shown to be stationary most of the time and police were present during filming, the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) ruled that it encouraged irresponsible driving and that it would not appear again in its current form.
Protein World wasn’t ASA ready
When Protein World launched an ad campaign showing a woman in a bikini to launch a new weight loss product, it garnered negative reviews due to its tag line: Are you beach body ready? The ASA upheld that part of the complaint and agreed the ad could not appear in its current form, but ultimately ruled that it would not cause offence. It was eventually banned due to its health claims, rather than advertising message.
Despite the half-hearted ruling, it seems that this advert did have a lasting impact. Earlier this year, the ASA announced new regulation to eradicate the use of gender stereotypes in advertising…
Philadelphia just not ripe for TV
…And the regulations claimed their first victims in August in the form of Philadelphia and Volkswagen. The new advertising guidance states that adverts ‘must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious widespread offence’.
The Philadelphia advertisement saw a pair of dads struggle to control their babies as they became distracted by food on a conveyor belt. Despite male parents being chosen specifically to avoid the well-worn stereotype of mothers with childcare responsibilities, the ASA ruled that it enforced another outdated stereotype of fathers being incompetent caregivers. It was subsequently banned from being shown in its existing format. To find out more about these rulings, listen to episode two of the CIM Marketing Podcast now, available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.
Iceland is frozen out
Despite avoiding scrutiny from the ASA, Iceland’s 2018 Christmas TV ad was deemed in breach of rules by ClearCast, which ban political advertising, due to its association with Greenpeace, a body whose object was deemed “wholly or mainly of a political nature”.
Iceland had re-purposed a short film highlighting the dangers of palm oil to orangutans, pledging to remove any products with palm oil from their own shelves in short order. Whilst the banning did lead to over 65 million views on YouTube, Iceland have since had to row back on their palm oil pledges, whilst being criticised for the shaky science behind making the promise in the first place.
Though some have argued that gaining a ban was the intended strategy, it did not lead to more sales and their approach to the environment was criticised by campaigners; with the added complication that the brand found it harder to remove palm oil products than it had first thought. Though Iceland have repeatedly stated that this was about purpose, not profit, it’s difficult to see that the ban gave them any long-term gain, whilst competitors like Lidl have taken a more nuanced approach.
Don’t drink and climb
Adverts have to be mindful of a range of factors in their production. This can be a tricky task and can sometimes mean that obvious errors slip through the net. Perhaps the most recent example highlights this best of all.
Scottish company McQueen Gin debuted an advert showing three people climbing in the Highlands against the sound of a drink being mixed. As they reach the peak, they toast their success by drinking a gin and tonic over lime and ice. It took a single viewer complaint for the ASA to conclude that the ad indeed had broken the broadcast advertising code, using the logic that, whilst drunk, these three men would have to make their way back down the mountain. This showed marketers that, whilst multiple complaints can lead to no action, sometimes a single complaint can derail a whole campaign.
As the industry becomes subject to new rules, and the population itself becomes more culturally aware, brands must tread a fine line if they wish to purposely shock their audience. Those that seek bans as a form of publicity must make sure that it will enforce their reputation as cutting edge and disruptive, and this is a tough course to engage. Those that are hit with unexpected bans must look closer at their tactics or they risk wasting more time and money.
On the other hand, are these new rules helpful to an industry that relies on being creative? To find out more about the impact new regulation is having on the advertising industry, listen to the new CIM Marketing Podcast now.
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