If the level of pettiness of complaints to the world’s advertising standards authorities is anything to go by, global consumers seem to be getting a lot more sensitive about what they see in advertising.
And, as a result, more and more ads that would have quite easily have passed muster 20 years ago are now being hauled off TV and cinema screens and out of newspapers and magazines.
But, is this genuinely because consumers are far more sensitive these days or is it because countries such a the UK and South Africa have increasingly become nanny states in which the often cash-strapped advertising watchdogs openly invite consumers to complain about ads? So much so, that it does give a lot of people something a lot easier and more fun do than the daily crossword.
Is a minority dictating moral standards to the majority? If so then what about freedom of commercial speech?
But, the advertising industry is not entirely blameless. What has happened in the past decade is that competition for consumer attention has increased enormously.
Which means that a lot of advertisers have to resort to all sorts of things to get attention.
To illustrate my point, a quick check on the internet produced a list of 15 of the world’s most “offensive, banned and rejected” advertisements. Admittedly, some of them are decidedly tacky and make no marketing sense whatsoever. They were clearly just designed to be shocking for shock’s sake.
But, the thing is, the majority of these would probably not have raised a single eyebrow 20 years ago. Have a look at the ads (below) and judge for yourself. How many of these would you want to ban?
And how many would be perfectly acceptable if they were the work of newspaper cartoonists and not advertising?
That’s the kicker. How come lurid, erotic, downright pornographic, not to mention unspeakably violent content, can be played out in the movies and on late-night porn shows, but not in ads? Nudity in magazines is fine as well as in the context of news or culture in practically all media?
But not advertising which has, for some reason, been policed a lot harder and harsher.
Or, is it just because it’s a heck of a lot easier to get gratification complaining about advertising than anything else?
Paddy Power – Ireland – Banned as “the betting odds referred to each woman’s chances of either being knocked down by the truck were offensive and demeaned older people”.
NO2ID – UK – Most Complained as “the barcode on Tony Blair’s upper lip made him resemble Hitler, which was offensive”.
Killer Heels by NMA – UK – Banned as it “trivialised and stylised violence”
Department of Health – UK – Banned as it can “frighten and distress children”.
Six Feet Under TV Series – UK – Banned as they were “offensive, shocking and likely to cause undue distress”
Diesel – UK – Banned as its “sexual image was likely to cause serious or widespread offence and was unsuitable in a magazine that could be seen by children”.
The Breast Cancer Fund – USA – Rejected by advertising spaces run by Viacom “over fears that its depiction of mastectomy scars would prove to be too shocking to the public”.
Follow Chris Moerdyk on Twitter @chrismoerdyk