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Louisiana State Univ.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

ASA Finds Ad Does Not Promote Bullying

The Advertising Standards Authority has rejected complaints that a "Beat that Quote" advertisement promotes workplace harassment.

Online financial comparison service BeatThatQuote.com's TV ad opened with a fully dressed office supervisor and hairy, shirtless male employees seeking better internet deals than competitors.

The commercial, by ad agency Leagas Delaney, showed the supervisor pulling wax strips from employees' backs when he felt they could have found better deals for the Beat That Quote service. The ad closed with the boss pulling wax strips off employees even if they managed to find the best deals.

The ASA found that

BeatThatQuote.com Ltd (BeatThatQuote) said they used exaggeration and absurdity to illustrate the key theme of their advertising; finding a better price.  They said the scenes in the ad were comical and included an exaggerated depiction of a commonplace activity; body hair removal.  They said adults would know that removing a wax strip was a quick process, which normally caused a person to wince, but was over quickly and left no after-effects.  They did not feel that the scenes showing wax strip removal, when combined with the comic and surreal feel of the ad, depicted an offensive level of violence or encouraged bullying.  They said the staff members did not appear in distress, victimised or bullied and stated that the Code generally accepted theatrical violence in a stylised cartoon or slapstick quality. 

Clearcast said they worked very closely with the ad agency to clear a final version that would not cause offence, harm or distress.  They did not consider that the ad condoned, trivialised or encouraged workplace bullying or violence.  They felt the semi-clothed, male-only workforce created an immediate comedic effect and that the action within the ad was clearly absurd.  They stated that while the men showed some discomfort when the wax strips were pulled off, none of them looked genuinely in distress, victimised or bullied.  They considered most viewers would see the ad in the surreal and comic spirit it was intended. 

3. BeatThatQuote did not believe that children who saw the ad would think that a scene featuring half-naked men and wearing cloth strips represented typical workplace activity and pointed out that the ad carried an ex-kids restriction to minimise any difficulties.

Clearcast said they had some concerns that the ad should not be seen by very young viewers, because they did not want younger, unsophisticated viewers to think this was a normal workplace.  They therefore gave the ad an 'ex-kids' timing restriction to minimise the risk of children seeing it. 

4. BeatThatQuote pointed out that the office was not a call centre, because there was no telephone-related activity of any kind, but nonetheless felt that the ad did not mock or degrade any particular category of employee, because of the unreal and bizarre scenario depicted.   

Clearcast stated the ad did not refer to call centre employees.  They said the office portrayed was nonsensical and the employees were hard working, although they were being motivated in a very unusual way.  They did not believe that most viewers would think that working in a call centre was being mocked or degraded at any time.

Assessment
1. Not upheld
The ASA recognised that bullying was a sensitive issue. We noted, however, that the ad was in keeping with previous BeatThatQuote campaigns which featured bizarre office-based scenarios, where everyday activities were exaggerated to create a surreal environment. We noted that, while the employees winced in an exaggerated manner when the wax strips were removed, they did not appear generally unhappy or frightened and intimidated by their supervisor, but appeared keen to provide better quotes.

Because the action in the ad was exaggerated and portrayed in a surreal context, we considered that the ad was unlikely to be seen to trivialise, condone or encourage bullying.

On this point, we investigated the ad under CAP (Broadcast) TV Advertising Standards Code rules 6.1, 6.2, 6.7 (Harm and offence), 7.4.1, 7.4.3 and 7.4.7 (Harm and distress) but did not find it in breach.

2. Not upheld
We noted that waxing was an activity with which most people would be familiar and while we noted that it could be a momentarily painful process to some and might cause someone to wince, we acknowledged that the pain was temporary and did not leave any lasting damage. We noted that the ad exaggerated the effects of being waxed; the employees' exaggerated vocal reactions to the process and the newly-waxed skin was shown to be pinker than would usually be the case. We acknowledged that the employees did not appear to be in the office against their will or in serious distress and that the action of motivating employees by waxing their backs was intended to be humorous.

While we acknowledged that the ad might be not be to some viewers' taste, we concluded that most people would not find the ad offensive or consider that it condoned violence and physical abuse.

On this point, we investigated the ad under CAP (Broadcast) TV Advertising Standards Code rules 6.1, 6.2, 6.7 (Harm and offence), 7.4.1, 7.4.3 and 7.4.7 (Harm and distress) but did not find it in breach.

3. Not upheld
We acknowledged that the ad had an ex-kids restriction to ensure it was not broadcast around programmes of particular appeal to children and that young children were therefore unlikely to see the ad unsupervised. We were not made aware of any particular instances of children seeking to emulate the ad. We also noted that the office was populated by semi-clothed male only staff and considered that older children would understand that this was not a typical office scene and that the action in the ad was likely to be seen as comedic rather than threatening. We acknowledged some parents were concerned their young children might be disturbed by the scenes of the wax strips being removed, but considered young children were unlikely to be watching without an adult present. We considered that the actors' reactions were exaggerated and had a slapstick quality and that the overall darkly humorous tone of the ad was likely to be apparent to all but the very young.

Because the ad was unlikely to be seen by unsupervised very young children and because we considered older children would understand that the ad did not depict a normal office environment, we concluded that the timing restriction was sufficient and the ad was unlikely to cause serious harm to children.

On this point, we investigated the ad under CAP (Broadcast) TV Advertising Standards Code rules 6.1, 6.2, 6.7 (Harm and offence), 7.4.1, 7.4.3, 7.4.7 (Harm and distress) and CAP (Broadcast) Rules on the Scheduling of Advertising rule 4.2.3 (Treatments unsuitable for children) but did not find it in breach.

4. Not upheld
We acknowledged that the ad was not set in a call centre, but noted it was set in an office environment. We considered, however, that the office depicted would not be viewed as a typical workplace. Because of that we concluded that most viewers would not take the action in the ad seriously, or believe that it implied that staff in call centres were being mocked or degraded.

On this point, we investigated the ad under CAP (Broadcast) TV Advertising Standards Code rules 6.1, 6.2, 6.7 (Harm and offence), 7.4.1, 7.4.3 and 7.4.7 (Harm and Distress) but did not find it in breach.

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