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Tuesday, 12 June, 2001, 13:15 GMT 14:15 UK
Do advertisers go too far?

The UK advertising watchdog has criticised a betting chain for a poster featuring two old ladies crossing the road in the path of an oncoming truck.

The bet appeared to be on whether they would make it to the other side.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ordered the withdrawal of the poster, saying it was likely to cause offence to the elderly and the infirm.

Recently a perfume maker fell foul of the advertising code with a photograph of a scantily clad model in a suggestive pose promoting its brand.

Nearly a third of all complaints received by the ASA are about taste and decency.

Are advertisers pushing the boundaries of good taste in the race for bigger sales? Or is political correctness in danger of making advertising terminally dull?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

An ad featuring vulnerable old folk (who have made their contribution to society) being mown down by a car is neither witty, ironic, entertaining nor funny. It is disgusting.
Nigel Preisner, UK

Advertising is the root of all evil and the end result of sheer brilliance.
Gerald Berson, Waterloo

I will not buy a product that uses sex or violence as a marketing ploy. End of story.
Lillie Palmer, USA

Adverts don't influence my purchases, however they do influence my 5 year old son

Caron, England
Adverts don't influence my purchases, however they do influence my 5 year old son. After a recent advert for an ironing board cover, my son asked my husband to take him to the shop so that he could buy the cover for me...
Caron, England

This particular advertisement appears to me to be promoting the idea that four wheeled vehicles always have the right of way. This cannot be right. It is worrying that the underlying message appears to be that one had better get out of the way of any vehicle or you will be run down. The age of the ladies is immaterial here; it is the "Get out of my way or you will be run down" message that is seriously disturbing.
Simon Devine, England

Advertising here in the US is pretty absurd. Quite often, our society is exposed to self-loathing, self-depreciating and ironic messages all in the name of selling a product. Our materialist-consumer culture can thrive only by goading people into buying products they don't necessarily need, nor want. I think that advertising is an art form, and can yield pretty clever stuff, but it's unfortunate that a majority of the products, services and goods are facades offering the spectre of wholeness and fulfilment, both of which can be obtained through less, well, moronic, as well as expensive ways.
Ken Hill, USA

Any censorship must be avoided at all costs. The control over the visual content and copy of an ad should rest with agency management. This looks like a cheap little ad with low-level childish "schoolboy" humour for copy.
Steve, UK

They are simply giving publicity to the companies that they rebuke

Gill, UK
Who are the ASA anyway and who has given them the authority to censor ads? After all, they are simply giving publicity to the companies that they rebuke and ensure that everyone is now aware of a company that otherwise they may never have heard of.
Gill, UK

So if 20-30 complaints get adverts banned, would it just take more people to complain about inappropriate censorship to get the adverts re-instated?
Andrew Dowle, UK

There should be restrictions on advertising. Lack of censorship would be fine if there weren't so many impressionable people in the world, but this is not the case. Adverts using violence and overt sex are playing a big part in the rise of violence, especially against women. This is aggravated by the increase in adverts denigrating men.
Tracy Lee, UK

Free speech is more important than good taste, and the ideas it generates are often more interesting too.
Patrick, UK

Yes. Like all liberals they believe they have a right to do what they want, and that any disagreement is oppression.
Bob Harvey, Lincolnshire, UK

The Agencies have to come up with ingenious ways of getting the message across. Unfortunately, they have to resort to such ads that create controversy which in turn get them a lot of mileage. Why else would we be discussing this? They have got what they wanted, albeit with a few complaints here and there that don't go far anyway as the damage has already been done!
Rahul, Kenya

These may be examples of bad taste and indecency but it is also free speech. Part of the price of living in a democracy with freedom of speech is offensive advertising, violence and sex on TV and explicit musical lyrics. If people don't like these ads, they should choose not to buy the product, but the government has no business regulating the contents or style of advertising.
Jeff, USA

Advertisers are a canny species. How better to spotlight a product and cut through the background noise of all other adverts than to create something offensive, then get the product and the associated company rapped in public? This is just another marketing gimmick, the so-called "shock" power. And it will get worse, until this ruse is realised and everyone just ignores them.
Karen, UK

Vote with our feet by not buying the products? Try it. You won't find a single women's magazine on the market that doesn't set out to make the vast majority of women unhappy with their bodies - and the same magazines run articles asking why women have such low self-esteem! Ask why and they turn round and say "It's what our readers want". Of course we don't - but they have to keep us dissatisfied or they wouldn't sell advertising space. This, not any amount of nudity or pensioner jokes, is the real issue; when will our care for our emotional and mental (and often physical) health outweigh someone else's greed for our cash?
Sarah C, UK

Preventing advertising like this in public is not censorship

Jeff Garner, USA
If businesses can't stand out from the crowd with a great product they resort to childish gimmicks or controversy to get attention. I can think of a lot of commercials that are funny, entertaining and attention getting without being crude, over-sexed or offensive. An intelligent advertiser can make a great commercial without offending but a less talented advertiser may not be able to stand out without producing something shocking. I have to disagree with Kay, UK that "if you don't like it, don't look!" The world around us is so saturated with advertising that it is impossible not to see it.

We are basically a captive audience. This is where standards of good taste should come in. There should be limits on what can be placed out in the open on buses, billboards, etc. I drive past a billboard everyday on my way home from work that advertises a strip club. I don't like it and find it offensive but it is impossible to not see it. Preventing advertising like this in public is not censorship. It simply shows respect for the diversity of opinion of the society, which all these "get a life" people don't seem to understand.
Jeff Garner, USA

I manage to avoid most advertisements nowadays - on the increasingly rare occasions I watch the television I turn the sound down and since the time taken up now seems longer I often have time to wander off to do other things (and if I do miss part of the programme it somehow doesn't seem to matter anyway!). Hoardings in the street, newspaper advertisements etc. are very easily ignored. And as a general aside, - the advertisements I am aware, of since you can't totally avoid them all, often appear fairly juvenile and tedious.
Mike, England

You can't win against these ad companies: if they offend enough people, they make headlines around the world for it. And that's even better for them - they dream of the kind of exposure that comes from getting banned. We should set up a "standards" board that approves these before they get posted.
Patrick, Canada

Stifling this sort of twisted humour - which is really the worst you can call it - will result in advertising becoming nothing more than a plethora of dull visuals. Common sense tells you that there is a difference between "real life" and advertising. There have to be more important things to get upset about these days.
Robert del Valle, USA

If we all took a good look around, we would see that we live in a society that is saturated with advertising. It plays a bigger role in forming our attitudes and beliefs than most people will admit. Take them for what they are, a company's efforts to get you to spend your money on their product. If you don't like the advertisements, say so with your spending choices. Offensive ads may get our attention, but not necessarily our cash.
Faye, USA

I can honestly say I never buy a product because of adverts

Andy, England
I can honestly say I never buy a product because of adverts. Advertising is for the fickle. In fact, I am inclined to steer away from advertised products because it means they can't sell it on its own merit and I as purchaser have to pay for the advertising.
Andy, England

Hang on. Is the Advertising Standards Authority going too far? Surely a better course than censorship is simply letting the market decide whether an advertisement is deplorable. If customers object, the advertisers will change their tune faster than the ASA can make them.
Alistair, UK

In response to 'Ian Bailey, England' who suggests that people who complain about ads should 'get a life', well: Advertisements pervade all we do, everywhere we go, TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, internet, telephone, clothes, everything. So personally speaking, Mr Bailey, I would rather like to be able to have some kind of experience WITHOUT someone trying to sell me a product. Spend some time in an ad free environment and then go back to UK 2001 and you'll be sickened by the pollution of our morality and the assumption of our gullibility!
Phil White, UK

If you do not like the advert... do not buy or use their products or services

Paul C., England
Advertisers will push the boundaries of good taste. But whether it has any effect or not is down to us. I have read all contributions to this discussion, saw and heard the story on at least two news bulletins and STILL don't recall who published the advert other than that it was something to do with betting. Maybe it's because I don't bet and no advert, however controversial or appealing will make me do so. We should be mature enough to decide for ourselves - if you do not like the advert and, by implication the organisation behind it, do not buy or use their products or services.
Paul C., England

I hadn't heard of the bookies that ran the ad featuring the two old ladies, but thanks to the ASA the name has been splashed across every paper and on-line news service in the UK. Following the tradition of Benetton and French Connection, is this not an example of an advert made to be banned - and might not these companies be complaining about their own adverts to get the publicity?
Richard Foster, UK

An advert is an advert is an advert... and should be viewed for what it is - a marketing ploy. The minute a debate starts on "good taste", it poses the question as to freedom of choice etc etc - the point being, if you don't like it, don't look!
Kay , UK

I think the betting chain should be applauded

Paul Williams, UK
I think the betting chain should be applauded for showing two very real people to advertise their product instead of resorting to the usual anodyne, slender and airbrushed models that the majority of adverts tend to use. To acknowledge the existence of "normal" people in a fun and humorous way is not to be condemned. What should be condemned is the way that the advertising industry continually foists images of their definition of perfection on to the consumer in an attempt to promote their products as "must haves".
Paul Williams, UK

If you read the marketing/ advertising press, these people have the cheek to refer to themselves as creatives - that they are definitely not. Most of their ideas are rehashed, tired and/ or borrowed from films, etc. They coin it in while they contribute to the coarsening of public standards. French Connection has succeeded in putting the F word on every high street in the country, something even the most prolific vandal can't do. They are not shocking, rarely clever and cynically set out to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Advertising is a tawdry little business.
Chris, UK

I saw this particular advert in Bimingham city centre, and found it quite offensive. I have written to the ASA to support their decision. Adverts like these guarantee that I will never use the services of such a company.
Paul, UK

I find it incredible that 20 or 30 people out of a potential audience of millions is sufficient to have a poster/ advert branded "inappropriate" and the advertiser censured.
Dave Whyte, UK

If a product is any good it shouldn't need a massive advertising campaign

The answer to both questions is YES - advertisers do push the boundaries, and it is highly likely that political correctness will make everything dull including ad campaigns. The quicker manufacturers realise that what sells a product better than anything else is its reputation for quality, and puts the advertising budget into product improvement the better off we will be. I rarely buy things just because they are advertised. I buy them after a demo from a mate or a dealer, and I want to see the technical spec first. If a product is any good it shouldn't need a massive advertising campaign because word soon gets around.

People who complain about advertisements have obviously nothing better to do. I reckon that if they won the lottery they'd still complain. Get a life!
Ian Bailey, England

Pushing the boundaries backwards never was profitable.
Forbes Cunningham, Netherlands/ UK

While no one wants to stifle the tremendous creativity and talent in the field of advertising, there should be standards of conduct. What may be extremely funny to one generation may possibly be insulting to another and some topics should probably be off limits. I believe that here in the US advertising has pushed beyond the realm of "good taste" and my definition of that would be what makes your toes curl when you watch television ads with your children or your parents. Advertising is supposed to inform, entertain, and make us want to buy, not titillate, insult, or degrade.
Di Stewart, USA

Ad agencies have to work even harder

Jon, UK
With such saturation of markets, especially those that are centred around the internet, it is essential that companies stand out from the crowd and increase their brands' awareness. Therefore, ad agencies have to work even harder to effectively deliver to the objectives of their clients. I say fair play to Bartle Bogle Hegarty for creating such a quirky and amusing piece and boo to the pedantic overbearing PC champions who obviously have nothing better to do with their time.
Jon, UK

Advertisers have always pushed at the outer limits of acceptability in order to get their products noticed. Often they get away with some advance on the competition and achieve fame or notoriety for so doing. If an ad gets banned, all well and good - more column inches will follow. What counts is getting noticed and getting the product name into people's heads. All that's changed is that with each year that passes, you can get away with far more because public tolerance has changed. If the only ads produced were the dull affairs of the 50's and 60's, advertising wouldn't achieve its goals and we'd be robbed of a major source of entertainment.
Andy Millward, UK

I don't think so. Censorship should be stopped. The only area where it should be allowed (censorship that is), is in children's programmes.
Volker, England (ex Germany)

Advertisers and good taste are an anathema. What hacks me off about advertisers is that in this day and age of zero tolerance to domestic violence they continue to be happy to use violence (and of course degradation) by women against men as a selling feature, car adverts especially.
Gerry, Scotland

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