The lunacy of advertising complaints

Just imagine that it’s your job to acknowledge, research, pontificate upon and judge the complaints of absolutely anyone into your chosen profession. Any complaint whatsoever. Even if it’s clearly ridiculous.

That’s just what the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has to do every day. How much time and resource and money is eaten up in this process? And how does it move forward the human condition in any way?

It does not, of course it does not. But a world without someone watching over the sort of people who make advertising and marketing material would be a frightening place.

You only have to look at how some advertisers deliberately push the rules to breaking point, comfortable in the knowledge that – by the time someone has bothered to complain and the complaint has been upheld, your message has hit the ether.

I think the ASA a good thing. But the following post – an ASA adjudication on a complaint over a Toyota advert – just how ludicrous advertising can get.

Just read over it and imagine you were the person that complained; the person at the ASA that adjudicated; the person at Toyota who had to prepare this response. And marvel at the lunatic scenario they’re all playing out.

ASA Adjudication on Toyota (GB) PLC
Toyota (GB) PLC
Date: 22 February 2012
Media: National press
Sector: Motoring
Number of complaints: 1
Complaint Ref: A11-180183

A national press ad for a car manufacturer featured two images of Toyota vehicles, one below the other. The top image was a Toyota in snowy conditions accompanied with the text, “From the North Pole …” The bottom image was a Toyota on a road, accompanied with the text, “… to Northampton”. Text below stated “… you can rely on a Toyota 4×4 to get you there. As the manufacturer of the only cars to make it to the North Pole, please don’t be surprised if you’re the only one that makes it out of the driveway this winter. Find your Toyota 4×4 at [website]”.

The complainant challenged whether the ad was misleading because they believed that Toyota only made it to the 1996 position of the magnetic North Pole, not to the geographic North Pole.

CAP Code (Edition 12)
Toyota (GB) Plc (Toyota) did not believe that the ad was materially misleading. They pointed out that there were four ‘North Poles’: the Geographic North Pole (also known as True North), the Magnetic North Pole, the Geomagnetic North Pole and the North Pole of Inaccessibility. However they said that the public at large would generally understand the claim as referring to one of the first two.

They said that the challenges presented by trying to reach any of the North Poles by car were broadly similar, namely: very low temperatures, low traction on snow and ice, rough terrain and thin areas of ice. They said the message of the ad was to convey that consumers could rely on a Toyota to get them to their destination in winter because they engineered cars that performed even in extreme conditions. They said, in this context, the material aspect of the claim was that their car had completed a significant journey in such an environment without mechanical failure.

Toyota did not believe that in this context it was useful to consumers to clarify that their claim referred to the ‘Magnetic’ North Pole as opposed to the ‘Geographic’ North Pole because they maintained that what a reader would take away from the ad was that they had produced a car that performed in extreme conditions.

Not upheld

We noted that the complainant believed the ad was misleading because the journey that Toyota referred to was to the 1996 position of the Magnetic North Pole, which was closer to land than the fixed location of the Geographic North Pole. However, we agreed with Toyota that what consumers would understand from the ad was that Toyota had engineered a car that could withstand extreme conditions and that this had been proven in a significant journey. We did not consider that a consumer’s decision whether or not to purchase a Toyota would be greatly affected by the knowledge that the claim in the ad referred to the Magnetic North Pole as opposed to the Geographic North Pole; therefore we did not consider it necessary to clarify this in the ad. For these reasons we concluded that the ad was not materially misleading or in breach of the Code.

We investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 3.38 (Other comparisons) but did not find it in breach.

No further action necessary.