While far from being a smiley face, I am not really much of a complainer. Don’t get me wrong - being Scottish, the chips on my shoulder are ornate epaulettes of resentment. However, that dissatisfaction tends to be your bog-standard, life-is-a-pain-in-the-arse-type of wingeing, rather than anything too orchestrated. I’m not often one for calling up TV stations in protest and, in truth, I regard those who do as dolts with Daily Mail ink coursing through their veins.
As an example, the banning this week by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) of an advert for Sky’s broadband service, starring Bruce Willis, is probably as good a place to start as any. Apparently, the broadcaster didn’t make it clear enough in the commercial that the price they were quoting for unlimited broadband was for existing customers only. It seems there are people out there in TV land who don’t as a rule add a pinch of consumer-savvy salt to whatever is being marketed to them. I do find this amazing. But what is more so, in light of the advert’s cancellation, is how many people complained about it. The grand total? One. One viewer.
I’m genuinely excited. This can only mean we are entering a new golden age of unilateral viewer influence. That the few can have influence over so many! Does that mean that, rather than just experiencing all-consuming nausea whenever James Corden or David Walliams appear on screen, I need only phone up and make an official complaint for them to be banished from my sight? It can’t be that easy, surely?
It certainly didn’t used to be. I have only complained about one advert in all my years of watching them. A few years ago, the makers of Old El Paso fajita mix ran a commercial which saw a man fixing dinner while his wife/girlfriend spoke on the phone to a friend. As the chap made a reasonable fist of constructing the fajitas, the woman gave a running commentary to her friend, disdain peppering every word, as she cast doubt on the chances of her fella managing to serve up the food without dropping the pan on the floor, burning the food or generally leaving her gasping on the floor, begging for a stomach pump. He finally serves up the food and she begins to eat tentatively. He asks how her fajita is and she barks: “Make me another one and I’ll tell you…” He rolls his eyes and offers thanks up to the Old El Paso people. Fade to black.
I was immediately on the phone to the ASA, frothing at the mouth at the astonishing sexism of the commercial; how, if the sexes of the characters were reversed, the advert would never have got past the storyboard stage; how this kind of thing does nothing for feminism and how two wrongs don’t make a right, blah blah. They noted my complaint and that was that. A few days later, I saw the commercial again and, out of curiosity, called the ASA to find out, I suppose, if they had had enough complaints to see the advert banned. The bloke asked me to hold for a moment and then said: “We only had one complaint. A Mr MacInnes in Glasgow. We can’t really do anything if only one person complains. Sorry.”
And while I was aghast and saddened that I was the only person in the country who found such advertising offensive, my egalitarian bones were at least satisfied that consensus was still apparently vital in a democratic society. But no more, it seems. At least when it comes to your broadband provider…