A TV ad for energy supplier Boost has been cleared by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) following accusations that a character homage to martial arts legend Bruce Lee perpetuated racist stereotypes about Chinese people.
In the ad, ‘Boost Lee in Finger Of Fury’, a character in a yellow jumpsuit dispenses calming advice about energy cost management to a woman concerned about paying her electricity bill. Lee teaches the woman to control her energy bills with the Boost app and an array of kung-fu fighting techniques.
The spots were produced by Snap LDN, who worked with the Bruce Lee Estate to ensure that the campaign respected the star’s legacy and “represented an accurate portrayal of Bruce Lee.”
The ASA investigated the campaign after receiving a complaint that the ad featured “outdated racial stereotypes” and “condoned harmful discriminatory behavior”. The complainant also questioned whether the ad was scheduled at an inappropriate time, given the focus on martial arts techniques.
Boost, which is owned by Ovo Energy Ltd, said that the ad made clear references to Bruce Lee and his filmography, rather than a generic stereotype of a Chinese martial arts fighter. Boost said that the name of the character, his yellow jumpsuit (a nod to Lee’s iconic look in 1972 flick Game Of Death) and his language in the script, were all intended as references to Lee, and that it had researched with consumer groups to make certain that this connection was clear.
Boost said that it had approached the Bruce Lee Estate, including Lee’s daughter Shannon Lee, to ensure that it was happy with the portrayal. The brand argued that the ad was not scheduled inappropriately, because movies such as Kung Fu Panda and The Karate Kid had been shown at the same time of day as the ad.
The ASA concluded that the ad was not discriminatory or harmful, and that it would not cause offence. The watchdog said: “We considered that viewers would understand that the character was intended to resemble Bruce Lee. We considered the ad was likely to be interpreted as light-hearted and humorous and therefore was unlikely to encourage the mocking or belittling of Chinese people.”
The ASA also said that the ad was not scheduled inappropriately, given the absence of offensive material in the ad.
The Bruce Lee Estate has collaborated with brands in the past, consulting on a BBH campaign for Johnnie Walker whisky in which the late martial arts icon was resurrected with the aid of CGI.