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Offensive advertisements

The Virgin Mobile case

by Dr Wim Alberts

In this complaint the advertisement focused on the word “simple packages”.   A swimming pool was pictured with four men standing on podiums, each holding up medals.  An elderly woman is seen using a walking stick as a hook, to peer down the front of the swimming costume of one of the male swimmers.  The words “The truth will set you free” are then heard.

The complaint was based on the fact that the commercial is offensive and degrades the elderly as the lady is depicted as lustful.  Moreover, it was said that the commercial is blasphemous as it features a quote directly from the Bible.  A further aspect was whether the commercial was suitable for children as it was of a sexual nature.

The Directorate stated that the mere depiction of an elderly person would not render an advertisement unacceptable.  The relevant norm is how the hypothetical reasonable person would, objectively, perceive the commercial.  The Directorate referred to earlier decisions, inter alia that in Fattis and Monis, in which an elderly woman preparing an Italian meal was locked in a cupboard.  There it was found that the whole context of the commercial was to amuse and that the reasonable consumer would not view it as offensive.

In the case of the Virgin Mobile advertisement there was merely a tongue-in-cheek play on the word “package”, which was also intended to highlight the simplicity and easy access to Virgin Mobile products.  The Directorate also referred to other cases in which it was decided that a woman is entitled in a free and democratic society to portray sexuality.  This included that women are allowed to express their sexual curiosity.  This was found to extend to elderly women and the notion that was accepted is that one can still have an inquisitive mind at a mature age.  Also of relevance is the fact that the scene featuring the elderly woman only took up four (4) seconds of a commercial of forty-six (46) seconds.  It was therefore held that the scene concerned was not offensive.

With regard to the lyrics “The truth will set you free”, the Directorate accepted the view that the particular words have become commonly used in everyday language and in various situations, to such an extent that they have become a cliché.  Books and music albums have also featured the phrase.  It was said that the use of the lyrics is accordingly not blasphemous, as it appears that the phrase has become secular.

With regard to the exposure to children, it was accepted that the commercial was not aimed at children, not being a Virgin Mobile target market.  Children would, however, inevitably watch television and, in this sense, they would be exposed to the commercial.  On the other hand, the Directorate felt that the commercial is hyperbolic to such an extent that even children would realise that the depictions are not literal.

The principle was accepted in earlier cases that slight sexual innuendos are not necessarily harmful to children, provided that these are not communicated in an unsuitable or irresponsible manner.  Virgin Mobile specifically scheduled its commercial at times when parents would be likely to watch television with their children.  This would ensure that parents are available to answer any questions that children might have about the commercial.  It was also said that children would not be swayed by this commercial to display any private parts.   Accordingly, this ground of complaint was also rejected.

 
 
   

 

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