Tuesday, June 06, 2006

“Pants down” Prescott fair game says advertising watchdog

Ryanair’s advertisement entitled Don’t get caught with your pants down featuring a caricature of Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott in such a state published in the Daily Telegraph of 3 May did not breach the advertising code according to the industry’s watchdog the Advertising Standards Authority.

Ryanair’s advertisement was exploiting the publicity surrounding Mr Prescott’s sex life to advertise the airline’s low fares.

Responding to civil liberties group Liberty and Law, which had argued that the advertisement breached the ASA code in eleven ways it explained: “Although this advertisement did refer to Mr Prescott in an adverse way, it did so in a manner very much in step with the already high-profile negative media coverage surrounding the story of Mr Prescott’s extra-marital affair, and as such we do not feel that the advertisement, tasteless though it may have been, was unfair to Mr Prescott.”

In arriving at its decision the ASA’s “Council posed three questions: will the advertisement offend most people who see it; will it so deeply offend a few that their interests should prevail against the undoubted liberty of advertisers to reasonable free expression; should the majority who are not offended be prevented from hearing what the advertisers want to say? Their answer to all three was negative.”

The Council “felt that although the advert could be considered distasteful, it was likely to be seen as light-hearted.”

Liberty and Law director Gerald Hartup commented: “Politicians may now sleep less comfortably even when laying in their own beds. The ASA’s strong judgment in this case is a helpful clarification of how the advertising rules are interpreted. Ryanair has set a trend in using satire to squeeze commercial value from discredited politicians.”
Liberty and Law had invited the ASA to consider the following potential breaches of the Code:
2.1 The communication is not decent since it refers in a trivialising way to reports of sordid sexual behaviour that the DPP has not even admitted to be true.

2.2 Holding up the DPP to ridicule for actions that the Prime Minister has accepted are personal matters not affecting his ministerial office is irresponsible.

2.4 The advertisement brings advertising into disrepute by using such means.

3.1 The advertisers have not made any attempt to prove the claim that Mr Prescott was actually caught with his pants down.

3.3 There is a significant division of informed opinion about the claim.

3.4 The claim is not an obvious untruth or exaggeration and so cannot be protected on these grounds.

3.5 The advertisement is couched in a manner certain to cause widespread offence particularly since it deals with intimate sexual relationships.

9.1 The advertisement can only cause distress to Mr Prescott and it does so for no better reason than to use a shocking image to attract attention.

9.2 It cannot seriously be argued that Ryanair is taking it upon itself to encourage prudent behaviour or to discourage dangerous or ill-advised actions by politicians.

12.3 It could be argued that the advertisement is designed to influence voters not to support the Labour Party and so is exempt from the Code, but not surely with any conviction. It can only be an accidental by-product.

13.1 Marketers should not unfairly portray or refer to people in an adverse or offensive way. There can be no doubt that in this case the portrayal is adverse and offensive.

ASA Code of Practice http://www.asa.org.uk/NR/rdonlyres/A44808F1-1573-482A-A0E5-D8045943DA57/0/The_CAP_Code_Ed11_20060227.pdf