The nanny state is alive and sticking the boot into those hard-working, misunderstood folk in the advertising industry. The Sun Herald tells glowingly how the Advertising Standards Bureau received a record number of complaints about ads last month because ordinary, decent Aussie types are sick of all the dross they see on TV and aren’t afraid to say so. Viva people power.
But of the gazillions of complaints received, only three were upheld and the advertisers forced to do something about it. Two were ads for tasteless mobile phone wallpaper: one featuring some raunchy girl-girl action and the other encouraging parents to “smack the shit out of your children”. In their defence, the advertisers said:
The ad was published with sensitivity to the relevant audience, who in this case are intelligent and affluent women.
Uhuh. The audience in this case being readers of No Idea. Affluent, perhaps, but tens of thousands more of these apparently intelligent women bought a copy of the mag when it ran the sensationalist and misleading coverline “Bec packs her bags” implying the Hewitt-Cartwright monstrosity might be on the rocks (maybe because Lleyton was off playing golf with Pat Rafter instead of attending a maternal health check with Bec). Mensa better start printing some more application forms.
Number three to get the boot was the stupid Coca-Cola Zero ad where the bloke climbs on top of the bus and gets thrown off into the sea when the bus stops. The problem? Young kiddies might see this and think it’s a good idea to go bus-surfing. No kidding.
A hilarious example from last year: there were ads in the NT News for a range of DVDs called Just Porn that showed pictures of naked women and sensitive titles like “No cum dodging allowed”. In response to the complaint, the advertiser wrote back:
[The advertisement] is nothing to do with us here at Just Porn. It is [the newspaper’s] choice and they can publish what they like so please take any complaints/problems to them. We were not impressed with the conversation today. You should use the right channel to discuss such complaints in the future. I wish to have nothing to do with you and your so called organization. The News will publish what they feel is correct as we have been doing the same ads for the past 2 years.
Um . . . clearly the petrol sniffing problem in the Northern Territory is more widespread than the authorities admit.
There are also plenty of laughs to be found in the complaints that were dismissed. The meddling old biddy brigade certainly seems to be out in force of late. Unfortunately, the majority of complaints seem to be about any ads depicting women in skimpy clothes or looking or acting sexy — drawing responses of sexist, demeaning, degrading, overtly sexual and so on.
Even the Dove posters — that made many female friends (even skinny ones, go figure) happy to see an ad that showed models whose shape resembled the majority of real women — prompted complaints of women “sitting in compromising positions” and being “immodest and sexual”.
The Hahn Premium Light ad that shows a woman in a gondola in Venice getting splashed when her male companion catches a fish was apparently “misogynistic . . . sexist, violent against women . . . treating women with disrespect” and “humiliating and degrading”.
I don’t want you to get the idea everyone who complains about ads is a humourless feminazi, though the high proportion of such complaints certainly isn’t doing the sisterhood any favours. Ads for Ian Hewitson’s Kick-Arse BBQ Sauce drew complaints for the “flooding of inappropriate language”. An ad showing a policeman as part of a Village People-style strip show is supposed to contribute to “disregard and disrespect” for law enforcement.
Fortunately, the chaps at the Bureau seem to be fairly sensible. In response to a complaint about (sigh) another “offensive and exploitative towards women” ad for Lynx deodorant that contained “phallic references and imagery”, the Bureau responded:
The Board noted that the advertiser had specifically exaggerated the scenes in this advertisement to such an extent that the majority of people would clearly understand the advertiser’s tongue-in-cheek approach to promoting its product. The Board was of the opinion that the majority of people would find this advertisement humorous rather than offensive.
Which is about as close as you can get in bureaucratese to saying “It’s a JOKE, people! Lighten up, sheesh!”
Just as well, because most of these complaints are perfect examples of the nanny state in action. The final example is an ad for a coffee machine that shows a child making coffee for his dad. Awwww! But, you guessed it, the ad was banned because small children might think it’s a good idea to play with coffee machines and get burnt.
This is a sensitive topic for me. One of my younger sisters was very badly burnt many years ago when she accidentally tipped over an urn full of boiling water. It still makes me uncomfortable just thinking or talking about it. But the idea that we should ban an ad that shows a kid making coffee as if that will make the world a safer place . . . idiotic.
Why are we as a society expending vast resources trying to legislate and regulate against stupidity? And is encouraging stupid people to complain about things really the best way to do it?