YES, NO, MAYBE: Is the ASB being too petty?

YES, NO, MAYBE: Is the ASB being too petty?
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Chrysler and Kia are two brands to incur the wrath of the Advertising Standards Bureau recently – Chrysler for a TV commercial showing a car with its fog lights on, and Kia for a spot that showed a car ‘speeding’ through Melbourne CBD. Both ads were adjudged to show the cars being driven illegally, but is the ASB being petty in some of its decisions?

 Fiona Jolly, CEO, ASB – NO

The car industry has set itself a strict set of advertising guidelines – the FCAI Code. In line with this code, the Advertising Standards Board has little or no discretion in respect of any matters that breach Australian road laws.

The FCAI Code was developed with the purpose of ensuring that car advertisements don’t undermine road safety messages.

At the time it was developed, in 2004, car advertising’s main focus was on the speed and power of vehicles. It was references to speeding in the advertisements themselves that brought Government and community pressure on the car industry and forced a rethink of how the car industry advertised its product.

Since the introduction of the FCAI Code the number of ads which show cars speeding, racing or doing anything that breaks Australian road laws have decreased dramatically to almost zero.

The rules are very clear, the FCAI Code is worthwhile and the community and Government support its objective – to keep Australians safe… and surely there is nothing wrong with expecting advertisers to think of more creative ways to advertise vehicles.

 Sam Granleese, Strategy and insights manager, Carsales.com.au – YES

Both of these car advertisements are designed to push the boundaries and make their subjects appear as exciting and attractive as possible.

Thanks to uptight citizens, who no doubt provide the ASB with complaints in hand-written form, pushing the boundaries means going near 40km/h in Melbourne’s dead slow CBD, or having both fog lamps and headlights on whilst driving through a fog at 4am. How thrilling.

The KIA Optima accelerates quickly through an intersection in the KIA ad, but over 40 km/h? It is too hard to tell. There is no speedo showing 40.

The streets are empty, so you can’t compare it with passing traffic. So much to analyse from a one-second scene. So much triviality.

I understand that the Chrysler 300 is technically breaking road rules by having its fog lamps on at the same time as headlights. Again, in a very brief cutaway scene. Most people wouldn’t notice such minor details in a TVC unless it was paused and pointed out to them. I certainly didn’t.

 Steve Coll, Executive creative director, Havas Australia – YES

I watched James Bond Skyfall a month or so ago. If you haven’t seen it, you should.

It begins with an epic car chase where 007 smashes up an entire spice market and most of Istanbul’s commuter traffic. Awesome. Seriously, it’s almost as good as the one where Jason Bourne speeds the wrong way through the Parisian equivalent of the Harbour Tunnel at rush hour! Amazing stuff.

Equally amazing is looking at both of these alongside the decision to ban a Chrysler ad for having the fog lights on at the wrong time. Or an ad where a Kia might be driving slightly over the limit in a city street.

It’s hard to contemplate without the words ‘nanny state’ popping into your mind.

Personally, I don’t believe banning ads is an effective answer. Yes, the issues of road safety and problem gambling are significant. But if the strict rules we apply to car ads actually do address road safety, why do we have a complete absence of rules elsewhere?

Although, I will say there is one important upside to banning ads. Compared to all the other actions you could take on a problem, it’s definitely the cheapest.

 Jodie Sangster, CEO, ADMA – MAYBE

I would usually answer “no” to this question. The role played by the ASB and other self-regulatory

bodies is critically important in setting sensible industry standards and avoiding the need for government intervention – which usually results in a mixture of ill-conceived laws enforced by heavy fines.

The beauty of self-regulation is that it allows the industry to set appropriate standards for advertising and marketing – standards that make sense. However, to be effective and credible, it has to be enforced properly when the line is crossed – even if it’s only crossed ever-so-slightly.

In these cases the decisions seem petty as the infringements are so slight, but strictly adhering to the standards that the advertising industry itself has set is critically important to protect the industry’s future.

To allow a minor infringement to pass would affect the integrity of the self-regulatory scheme. Once credibility is lost it is a matter of time before the government steps in. Nobody wants that!

However, the reason I have said “maybe” is that recent decisions of the ASB go beyond the enforcement of industry standards.

By ruling that user comments posted on a company’s social media site form part of an “advertisement”, the ASB has opened the door to social media censorship.

If advertisers are now responsible for user comments, they will also need to make judgments on their truthfulness and accuracy, and take action to rectify as necessary. This puts in jeopardy the viability of social media as a marketing tool.

A petty decision, no. A dangerous path, maybe.

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