The NHS has recently had its knuckles rapped by the Advertising Standards Authority for a series of adverts depicting people being caught by a fish hook and being dragged to the shops for a packet of cigarettes. The campaign’s complaints mainly centred around its poster and TV output. With 774 complaints, this is already the ‘most offensive’ advert in the past few years.
This seems like utter blindness on the side of the Department of Health. Whilst I understand these adverts are meant to shock, how can an advert continue to shock people if it gets banned by the ASA? Having people being violently dragged around by a hook in their mouth is not something most kids and even adults want to see as part of their day’s entertainment.
There are times when shocking ads slip through the net and simple usual ads get swept up in the hysteria of the Mary Whitehouses out there. One example is the KFC commercial of a couple of years ago, the most complained about ad of its year… because of call centre staff eating whilst singing. It was complained about 1,671 times because it encouraged children to talk whilst eating. Thank goodness the ASA has sense (sometimes) and didn’t ban the advert.
The issue here is the fine line between controversy and insanity. How did the DoH think they could get away with adverts which even depict mild violence? Did they talk the old ‘if they can run a woman over with a table in a pub, then we can drag people around with fish hooks’? Education is good enough in this country that everyone knows smoking is bad for them and if they want to give up, then they will. An advert with the phone number and website is enough to make people aware there is help out there.
Modern advertising is a complex market, with fractured audiences and so many different media to advertise on. Shock adverts are there to stand out from the crowd but, as I mentioned, getting your advert banned doesn’t help your promotion.
Thanks to everyone who responded to the previous post, I hope you’re aboard as regular readers now. If there’s anything you’re infuriated by or agree with, please post a comment.