For a brief moment I seriously considered suggesting that every creative director in the ad industry in this country should spend an obligatory week at the Advertising Standards Authority just to get an idea of the kind of over-the-top intolerant, politically correct, nit-picky whackos they are aiming their advertising at.
But then, I thought better of it because any serious creative directors who have the passion and determination to push the envelope of communication would probably take one look at some of the complaints that come in to the ASA and then go straight out in to the street and throw themselves in front of a cement truck.
Rolling in the aisles
What I find really good news is that the ASA is upholding fewer and fewer complaints based on ludicrous personal sensitivity, taste and decency issues. Although it meticulously responds with serious dignity to every complaint that comes in, even if it does have them rolling in the aisles with laughter.
The most recent of which was a complaint about the new Renault Scenic television commercial featuring a family going on holiday with a computer-generated baby elephant in the back behaving like a complete nincompoop. I suspected that the compliant would simply be that it is one of the most stupid TV commercial s ever made but instead it was a lone consumer voice complaining about animal cruelty.
Now interestingly enough, five years ago I reckon the ASA would have given some very serious thought to taking that complaint seriously and might well have banned it if it had been flighted back then. After all, the ASA did ban some posters in a Johannesburg deli illustrating how healthy their chickens were by depicting them in hand-drawn cartoons happily running on a treadmill in the form of a tumble dryer and doing pull-up exercises on the blades of an overhead fan.
All simple drawings – yet the ASA upheld a complaint of cruelty to animals on the basis that maybe kids would get the wrong idea and start feeding their pet bantams into tumble driers.
I am told that these days, the ASA would not even think about it. Which pleases me, because those same usually bold creative directors are still too dead scared to try anything bold out of fear of a banning and their agency having to pay for a new campaign.
I have always argued that the ASA does a great job in terms of monitoring and acting decisively on misleading advertising but that by getting involved in moral decision-making in terms of taste and decency complaints was “playing God”, quite apart from which how can one possibly make a moral judgement on behalf of 40 million people based on the complaints of three or four or even a single oversensitive and petty whinger?
Other complaints the ASA have mercifully turned down recently included one about the Chevrolet Spark TV commercial which featured animated cars flying through the air, breakdancing and doing all sorts of entertaining little tricks. The complaint? A motor vehicle cannot possibly do all those things without causing accidents or damage to people or property.
Two hour ad
Then there was a complaint about UNISA's School of Business Leadership commercial featuring famous achievers such as Albert Einstein (physicist), Dame Jane Goodall (anthropologist), Mahatma Ghandi, (humanitarian), Raymond Ackerman (entrepreneur) and Sol Plaatje (poet). The ASA turned down the complaint from someone who was most incensed that Sol Plaatje was purely depicted as a poet and insisted that he be shown as the first General Secretary of the ANC, the man who translated Shakespeare in to Setswana, edited two Tswana newspapers, and was a court translator and author.
Which one must admit would be nice but then if one applied that to all of the people featured in the commercial, it would probably have to be extended beyond its 30 seconds to about two and a half hours.
The ASA politely pointed out that the complaint and request was completely impractical.
The of course there are the odd complaints from white people who see their fellow whites being mildly made fun of by blacks in TV commercials, such as the Vodacom and CTM ads, suggesting that if the roles had been reversed and the commercial showed whites demeaning blacks , all hell would let loose. In the same way I suppose if we saw an ad depicting poor defenceless Jewish refugees torturing German soldiers during WW2 or seals rising up out of the arctic depths and clubbing Eskimo hunters to death.
The ASA politely told this complainant to get a life.
It is good news indeed that the ASA has become a little less tolerant of unreasonably intolerant consumers. Advertising is a far too important a contributor to the economy to be relegated to an ineffectual business tool just to protect the sensitivities of a tiny minority of consumers.