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'Zap sign' ad doesn't fly with ASA

Oct 20 2016 19:05
Lameez Omarjee

Johannesburg  –  The Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa (ASA) has ordered a billboard advertisement displaying a “zap sign” be removed.  

The complaint brought forward by a member of public Steven Moss was against Anglo Dutch Power.

The solar energy company displayed the advert on the N3 highway between the Buccleuch and London Road off-ramps, in Johannesburg.

It featured the words “Give inflation the” followed by an image of a middle finger. Moss’s issue was that children would be exposed to the “inappropriate” gesture.

Due to the “rude” and “offensive” nature of the advertisement, the ASA directorate ruled that the billboard be taken down with immediate effect, never to be used again.

According to the code of advertising practice, advertising likely to be exposed to children should not contain material that could cause “mental, emotional or moral harm”. It should not create the impression that it is acceptable to act in a manner regarded as unacceptable.

ASA has dealt with complaints in the past about potentially offensive words, which were subtly conveyed in advertising messages.

“This instance, however, appears to cross the proverbial ‘line’ in that it leaves nothing to the imagination,” the authority stated in its ruling.

Solly Moeng, brand reputation management adviser said South Africans’ conservatism is hard to define.

Some things are regarded as unacceptable and others not.

“You have to use your imagination as to where the line is drawn,” he said.  

For this reason, that is why some advertisers can get away with it, and others not. They take chances all the time, and hope no one will complain, he said.

“We live in a secular society, multi-cultural and multi-religious. Why should anyone stop them?”

People get used to the “shape” their advertising is packaged in. For example, they would not be offended at Nando’s advertisements because they are “used” to the Nando’s brand.

However, an unknown brand may struggle to achieve the same effect because they may “break the shape”.

Citing previous rulings of a similar nature, the ASA stated: “When a rude gesture is displayed publicly, with no subtlety and no apparent humour to soften the blow, it is unlikely to be regarded as acceptable, especially when there is a strong likelihood of children being exposed to it.”

Conversely, offensive, rude, or vulgar gestures which are subtly communicated, or require some level of understanding about possible innuendos, may be acceptable.

In its response to the complaint, Anglo Dutch Power said that for the four weeks the billboard had been displayed, the business received over 100 enquiries and no complaints.

One of the directors, Bernard Solriegb told Fin24 that to date, the company had received 120 enquiries from the advert, and only three phone calls complaining about it. One official complaint was submitted to ASA, by Moss. "So we have about a 4% to 5% negative reaction," he said. 

Moeng added that it is not likely that people would stop buying the products because the advert was pulled.

“The middle finger describes what the respondent would prefer to do with inflation, especially in the context of ever-increasing electricity costs. From this perspective, the image is perfectly appropriate,” Anglo Dutch Power stated in their formal response to ASA.

Anglo Dutch Power further added that it did not think children would be offended by the sign, unless they were aware it was a rude sign. Solriegb added that it was not their intention to cause harm.

He said that the company would remove the advertisement and replace the middle finger with a boot, to "give inflation the boot".

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