Cars ads must not refer to speed in a way that might condone or encourage dangerous and irresponsible driving. This is a fundamental rule Clearcast has to consider regularly but it usually only becomes an issue when we are assessing driving sequences. If a car is obviously traveling faster than the speed limit then we ask for amendments to be made.
Honda presented us with an interesting creative treatment which flashed individual words on the screen really quickly to test the viewer’s ability to read them. The message of the ad was about pushing boundaries and improving. The copy used the words ‘go faster’ and ‘get to better faster’ but we felt that this was a reference to the speed reading challenge rather than referring to the speed of the car. The ASA recently published a ruling on this ad and disagreed with our interpretation, saying ‘while the ad did not include realistic depictions of vehicles being driven in a dangerous manner, we considered when taken together, the fast changing text, references to “pushing yourself” and “going faster” [sic], the scenes of cars, sound effects and accompanying sound track was likely to leave viewers with the impression that speed was the central message of the ad.’
The speed-reading test was a clever means of demonstrating the message of pushing boundaries and improving; speed was not intended to be the message itself, it was supposed to be the means rather than the end. However, what the advertiser intends and what the ASA considers to be the resulting message of the ad are sometimes two different things. The ASA’s position in this case provides an interesting precedent that both Clearcast and car advertisers must take heed of.
What we have learned from this ruling is that even if car ads do not focus on showing the car being driven aggressively and at speed, the ad could still be in breach of the rules if the creative treatment refers to speed in a more oblique way. An ad is the sum of its parts and sometimes it is the overall effect of all the constituent elements that creates a problem. However, in this case it could be argued that without the use of ‘go faster’ and ‘get better faster’ in the captions the ad might still be on air, because the other elements would not have been so explicitly positioned within a context of speed.
By Seb Lynch, Copy Development Manager