Complaint: 12/583

Vodafone New Zealand Television


J. Johnson
No Grounds to Proceed
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J. Johnson
Vodafone New Zealand Limited
Vodafone New Zealand Television
31 October 2012
No Grounds to Proceed

Complaint: A television advertisement that showed a young Maori actor, James Rolleston, entering a Vodafone store and asking the Caucasian retail assistant "So what's your deal?" The retail assistant replied that he was a 'Vodafone Ninja, the trained master of smart phones'. Rolleston replied by taking a literal interpretation of the word 'ninja', and asked the retail assistant if he could break various items in the store. The 'Vodafone ninja' tries to explain that he is not an actual ninja, and hence can't break anything, back flips and is not a cyborg, but he can show people how to get the best use out of their smart phone.

Complainant, J. Johnson, said, in part:

"The advertisements feature a young Maori boy, which in itself is great, however, we believe that heavy emphasis is put on what is known as the 'Maori Accent' and misuse of proper English language, such as use of the term 'you's'. The young Maori boy is portrayed as dumb, as can be seen in one advertisement where he is talking to the intelligent (portrayed) Caucasian boy. The Caucasian boy responds quite clearly to the Maori boy's questions with an 'are you really that stupid' visual response to the dumb questions being asked by the dumb (portrayed) Maori boy. Then the Maori boy adds to the stupidity of the scene by poking the other boy, something that in real life would lead to an assault charge.


Being part Maori myself, I know that this accent is always seen as the 'dumb Maori accent', which makes fun of Maori people, while intentionally used to humiliate, and belittle our race, and this is unacceptable especially when used in a national advertising campaign by a business conglomerate such as Vodafone."

A duplicate Complainant shared a similar view.

The relevant provisions were Basic Principles 3, 4 and 6 of the Code for People in Advertising.

The Chairman noted the Complainants' concerns that the advertisement was offensive in its portrayal of Maori.

Turning to the advertisement before her, the Chairman considered that the contextual humour created of using the same actor from the film 'Boy' did not present consumers with the notion of social disadvantage. While the Chairman noted the sincere concerns of the Complainants, after watching the advertisement she was of the view the speech of the young male actor did not appear simple-minded but rather he spoke in a casual manner that was in keeping with the vernacular of many teenagers. The Chairman also considered the interpretation that the Maori actor was making fun of the 'Vodafone ninja' by way of his questions and actions was also available.

The Chairman took into account that Basic Principle 6 made provision for humorous and satirical treatment of groups of people in advertisements, provided that it was not likely to cause serious or widespread offence, hostility, contempt, abuse or ridicule.

As such the Chairman said the advertisement did not portray people or use stereotypes in a manner which was likely to cause serious or widespread offence on the basis of race, and thus did not breach the Code for People in Advertising.

Accordingly, the Chairman ruled that there was no apparent beach of the Advertising Codes and ruled that there were no grounds for the complaint to proceed.

Chairman's Ruling: Complaint No Grounds to Proceed