Vodafone "Benches" Newspaper Advertisement
Meeting 11 October 2005
Advertisement: Vodafone New Zealand Limited
Complaint: The Vodafone newspaper advertisement, published in the Otago Daily Times, contained a large graphic of the back view of a man sitting on a bench. A line of text above his belt said: "WIN STUFF WITH YOUR BUM". Above this text the top of his bottom was visible.
A call to action below said: "When you see a bench, get your bum on it." Further text included: "The first six people to sit on each bench - and stay there - will score a wicked day out at the rugby."
Complainant, R. Hannon, said:
"The enclosed Advertisement in ODT 13-8-05 is no doubt duplicated throughout NZ newspapers?
I think it is repugnant, offensive, low life advertising and shouldn't be permitted in the public newspaper forum.
I'm surprised that Vodafone would descend to this level - they shouldn't be encouraged."
The Chairman ruled that the following provisions were relevant:
Code of Ethics
Rule 4: Decency - Advertisements should not contain anything which clearly offends against generally prevailing community standards taking into account the context, medium, audience and product (including services).
Rule 5: Offensiveness - Advertisements should not contain anything which in the light of generally prevailing community standards is likely to cause serious or widespread offence taking into account the context, medium, audience and product (including services).
The Advertiser, Vodafone, said:
"This ad is targeted at students in Otago with a view to promoting Vodafone's support of Otago NPC rugby.
Vodafone believes the advertisement to be well within the generally prevailing community standards of decency and unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.
Vodafone has had the benefit of sighting a letter prepared by Rob Hoar of Lowe Consultants dated 7 September 2005. Vodafone endorses Lowe's comments."
The Agency, Lowe, said:
".....This ad is targeted at students in Otago and, I believe, well within the generally prevailing community standards of decency and unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence. I base this view on the following:
- Similar images regularly appear in national TV advertising. I draw your attention to the McDonalds "The Boss" ad of March 2004 (stills attached).
- To ensure representation of local community standards we took the added precaution of getting the Otago Daily Times to approve the Benches ad prior to publication (see attached correspondence)
With due respect to R. Hannon's complaint I do not believe that this advertisement is in breach of rules 4 and 5 of the Advertising Code of Ethics"
The Otago Daily Times said:
"In response to the Vodafone "Benches" complaint. We looked at this advertisement carefully as we actually had a "heads-up" from the NAB regarding it.
In our opinion it does not contravene Rule 4 or 5 of the Act. In this day and age a picture of a mans backside hanging out of his jeans is common place - just walk up any main street in New Zealand.
We found the campaign to be mildly amusing, hardly offensive!"
The Complaints Board perused the relevant correspondence and the advertisement. It noted that Complainant, R. Hannon, was of the view that the advertisement was offensive.
The Chairman directed the Complaints Board to consider the complaint with reference to Rules 4 and 5 of the Code of Ethics.
The task before the Complaints Board was to assess, after taking into consideration the context, medium, audience and product, whether the advertisement clearly offended against generally prevailing community standards of decency thereby breaching Rule 4, and / or was likely to cause either serious or widespread offence in the light of generally prevailing community standards, thereby breaching Rule 5.
It noted that the advertisement had been published in the Otago Daily Times and was targeted at students in Otago with a view to promoting Vodafone's support of Otago NPC rugby.
It then took into account Decision 00/294 where it had ruled that a similar body shot did not reach the threshold to effect a breach of the Advertising Codes.
A minority of the Complaints Board was of the view that the advertisement was likely to cause serious offensive to some members of the community, in particular those outside of the targeted student group, and this was in its view exacerbated by the fact that the depiction did not have any relationship to the product. Thereby, in the minority view, the advertisement was in breach of Rule 5.
On the other hand, the majority of the Complaints Board said that pants worn to expose the backside in a similar manner were visible street wear by the young, on a daily basis. It acknowledged that the humour involved would appeal to the intended audience, and said that although the advertisement could be said to lack taste, it did not reach the threshold to cause either serious or widespread offence. Accordingly, the majority was of the view that the advertisement did not meet the threshold to effect a breach of the Advertising Code of Ethics.
In accordance with the majority view, the Complaints Board ruled to not uphold the complaint.
Decision: Complaint Not Upheld