Vinnie: the unacceptable face of selling

Recent adverts for vodka, fizzy drinks and even salad cream suggest advertisers are getting nasty to sell their products. But have they overstepped the mark this time?

Are advertisements becoming too cruel? That is the question being put to television watchdogs, as they investigate complaints that a series of recent ads have gone beyond offensive to just plain nasty.

Are advertisements becoming too cruel? That is the question being put to television watchdogs, as they investigate complaints that a series of recent ads have gone beyond offensive to just plain nasty.

The Independent Television Commission (ITC) is investigating complaints about advertising campaigns for, among others, Heinz, Red Devil, Tango and Vodka Source, amid claims that advertisers are attempting to tap into an increasingly aggressive and cynical youth culture.

One, for energy drink Red Devil, was recently moved to a time slot after the watershed of 9pm after it drew 183 complaints from viewers. In the commercial, hard-man footballer-turned-actor Vinnie Jones deliberately places a bird table behind a window so that a hungry robin flies into the glass, stunning itself.

Another campaign, for the drink brand Vodka Source, features two gaily sadistic Scandinavian blonde women, who in one advertisement take pleasure in burning an old man's coat, and in another, make an elderly man stand in freezing water and use his genitalia for fishbait.

Meanwhile, an ad for the once resolutely homely Heinz Salad Cream has attracted 111 complaints from viewers and homeless groups after it showed a vagrant buying a bottle of salad cream to enliven food he scavenged from dustbins - accompanied by the slogan: "Anything tastes supreme with Heinz Salad Cream".

And earlier this year, a commercial for soft drink Tango was withdrawn from screens after the ITC upheld the view of 83 complainants that it could encourage bullying. The advert showed an overweight boy being bullied by a gang of men shouting at him through megaphones for not drinking Tango. The boy was reduced to tears. The advert ended with viewers being encouraged to send off for a megaphone so they could "join in the fun".

The ads are not just restricted to the terrestrial channels. Music channel MTV recently ran an ad featuring a hillbilly family called the Jukka Brothers, one of whom is punished for "unsexy dancing" by having the MTV logo beaten into his bare behind with a bat.

John Beyer, director of the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association, has called for a shake-up of the regulatory system governing television advertisements to stem what he sees as an increase in "cruel" ads.

"Advertisements are becoming nastier and it is a very sad trend. Viewers are getting rather immune to the impact of television commercials, and for that reason advertisers are trying to make their adverts stand out," he says.

"It is time that the code of practice relating to advertising was overhauled and that the regulatory bodies took a far more strident approach to advertising standards, because the tastes of society are determined to a large extent by what we see on television."

But the ITC disputes the idea that television ads are getting nastier. A spokeswoman says: "I don't think it's getting more cruel - the Tango ads date back to the early 90s, such as the famous one with the slapping around the face - they were considered pretty cruel. And then there were the Martini ads, where it was described as "only for beautiful people". Personally I think those were in some way more groundbreaking and shocking than perhaps some of those more recent ones are. The Tango ads we upheld complaints about; they were very shocking at the time."

She said the problem with deciding whether an advertisement was "too cruel" was that it would fall under the commission's "offensiveness" guidelines, which were necessarily subjective.

"It's quite difficult because what's offensive to one person doesn't necessarily affect another - it isn't simply a black and white area. You get such a varying degree of complaints.

"An advertisement you could look at every evening and never consider to be offensive, we'll still get one or two complaints because people interpret it in a certain way. But it is also the area in which we uphold least complaints because you have to look at what the majority of people would find offensive."

Last year the ITC received 3,092 complaints about offensive advertisements, and upheld 9 of them. Whereas under its "misleading" guidelines, it received 2,074 complaints, and upheld 72.

Complaints are handled by individual officers in the first instance, and then, if deemed serious enough (such as in the case of the Tango "megaphone" ad, which was removed from screens) the decision is made at board level.

"We recognise that advertising is a creative medium, and there has to be scope for irony and humour, providing it's within legal, decent, honest and truthful framework," said the ITC spokeswoman.

"In the case of the Tango megaphone ads, which drew 60 or 70 complaints, the complaints were not upheld because they were cruel or offensive, but because they were harmful - we didn't want copycat incidences and the campaign is aimed directly at children.

"The whole reason we suspended it was because it was seen as a very deliberate bullying strategy, and what tipped it was when we started getting them from teachers and parents saying it would translate to the schoolyard."

Much of the decision depends on context - the lack of complaints about the Jukka brothers bottom-branding advertisement probably reflects the age and humour of MTV's viewing audience.

While the ITC has seen an upsurge in complaints about cruelty to men, beginning with the Diet Coke "bare chested builder" campaign, and now encompassing the Spirito di Punto campaign, where men and women make derogatory remarks about each others' handling of the car, the one area guaranteed to draw complaints is animal welfare.

Thus the Vinnie Jones advertisement has had to be moved back to the watershed, (the Advertising Standards Authority also received 3 complaints about the poster version - showing a stunned robin) while in 1998 an advert for Levi jeans, which featured a hamster called Kevin, first running on his wheel, then apparently as dead as a doornail, drew the most complaints from the public since public complaining began. (They were not upheld, but the advertisement was moved to a later slot).

Perhaps the most bizarre recent complaint concerns Graham the cartoon cow in Boddingtons advertisements. At least one viewer complained that he was promoting bestiality. As yet, the complaint has not been upheld.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Recruitment Genius: External Relations Executive

£33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An External Relations Executive is requi...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Project Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This established Digital Agency based in East ...

Guru Careers: Sales Director / Business Development Manager

£35 - 45K + COMMISSION (NEG): Guru Careers: A Sales Director / Business Develo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee