Bad taste and sexism, the ads that went too far ...

Complaints about raunchy campaigns have forced advertisers to think again
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Concern about the effect advertising has on children is fuelling a rapid rise in the number of complaints about taste and decency in British advertising, according to a report published by the Advertising Standards Authority yesterday.

Fear for children was the biggest concern, ahead of bad language, bad taste, sexual exploitation, violence and demeaning or sexist portrayals of women in advertising. The sexist or demeaning portrayal of men is also an issue of concern.

The report, Drawing the line - Public Attitudes to Taste and Decency in Non-Broadcast Advertising, was commissioned by the ASA in response to a sharp rise in complaints.

"Complaints were up 33 per cent last year and that trend looks set to continue," says Caroline Crawford, director of communications at the ASA.

Recent campaigns, including the Gossard's Glossies bra ad, Club 18-30's "Beaver Espana" campaign and Playboy TV's "Morgasms" poster have generated a barrage of complaints. Others stand accused of purposely courting controversy to stretch limited ad budgets by generating editorial coverage.

Members of the public questioned for the ASA's survey share a clear appreciation of a range of factors which might affect their reaction to an ad, such as how relevant the advertising is to the product and its target market, the ad's style and presentation and where it appears.

Concern was expressed over certain campaigns which used prominent posters and included content deemed inappropriate for families. When shown a Club 18-30 poster which featured a close up of a bulging male crotch accompanied by the copy: "Girls, can we interest you in a package holiday?", 35 per cent of those questioned found it offensive; the same proportion felt it should be banned.

The ad regarded most offensive was for the RSPCA and depicted a dead horse hanging from a hook. But cruelty to animals was just one of a number of taboos highlighted by the research. Death, religion and bad language were all voted inappropriate for inclusion in ads. Seventy five per cent believed that disrespectful references to race, religion or culture should never be allowed.

The ASA's findings were presented at a seminar in London yesterday at which senior industry figures were asked to measure their perceptions against those of the public on where to draw the line. Before the results were unveiled, advertisers and agency executives were invited to vote on whether the public would have found certain ads offensive.

The results were in line with public attitudes, with advertising representatives er-ring, if anything, on the side of caution. Eighty one per cent of those present thought the public would find the Wonderbra campaign acceptable; 82 per cent of respondents found it OK.

Even so, a minority of ads continue to attract complaint, concedes Gary Duckworth, chairman of advertising agency Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters, who urges self-restraint. "Advertising which is discreditable at the fringes will tend to discredit advertising as a whole - from the public's point of view it's still advertising," he says.

Are advertisers out of touch with the public? Section Two