The Clear View: Car Ad Rulings

02nd August 2017

The Advertising Standards Authority has recently published the results of complaint investigations into three different car ad campaigns. In all cases the complaints have not been upheld. Motoring has become an increasingly contentious sector in the last few years, with a number of high-profile investigations. We’re pleased that the ASA has agreed with our view that the ads were acceptable under the Code, but it is worth looking at the detail of the cases to understand how seriously these issues must be considered.


This week the ASA has published a ruling in favour of Citroen. In the ad a driver uses an in-car camera to photograph various landmarks, then sends them to his girlfriend. Twenty people complained that the ad condoned or encouraged dangerous or irresponsible driving and breached the Highway Code.


In our assessment we considered whether pressing a button to take photos from the car was markedly different to pressing other buttons, for example turning the radio on. We concluded that there was no difference and that as long as the car was either parked or travelling safely when the feature was used then it was unlikely to breach the Code. The ASA agreed with our assessment.


In a similar case a couple of weeks ago the ASA didn’t uphold a complaint about a BMW advert which featured a driver swiping his hand across a built-in screen on the dashboard. As with the Citroen ad, the complainant believed this behaviour condoned or encouraged dangerous or irresponsible driving and breached the Highway Code.


We argued that the driver was shown maintaining proper control of the vehicle while swiping the screen, an action comparable with, or even quicker than, using the dials and buttons of a more traditional interface. The ASA agreed, noting that ‘there was no suggestion in the shot used in the ad that the driver was distracted or not exercising proper control.’


A Sixt campaign, including two TV adverts, has also come under recent scrutiny by the regulator, with 11 complaints received. In both ads the complainants took exception to the drivers’ use of their mobile phones. The cars were stationary on the forecourt of a Sixt branch at the time but the complainants still felt this breached the Highway Code and encouraged irresponsible driving behaviour.


The ads had a comedic tone and during the calls both drivers were wearing seatbelts, with one hand on the wheel. The phone calls were terminated before the car pulled out from the forecourt, and the drivers looked at the road ahead.


While the ASA noted that the ads were somewhat surreal, they also confirmed our view that this was not a carte blanche to show drivers breaching the Highway Code. The ASA went on to state that ‘… the drivers were in moods of quite high excitement, but we considered that it was nevertheless clear that the phones were put down before the drivers drove off and that, when he or she did so, they were exercising proper control of their vehicle.’


As in-car technology becomes increasingly sophisticated motoring ads must be careful to ensure the latest gadgets are marketed in a responsible manner. All three cases stem from the Highway Code stating that drivers ‘MUST exercise proper control of your vehicle at all times’, and it is apparent that a humourous treatment does not negate the Code. The rule is something which is open to a degree of interpretation, and we welcome the fact that the ASA clearly agrees with our take on it.


Work on a car account? The Motoring section in our Notes of Guidance contains commentary and example rulings to help you out.