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From Benetton to Brewdog - the brands that stick two fingers up to the taste police

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By Mark Lowe | founding partner

July 29, 2013 | 3 min read

Nowadays, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) does a better job promoting brands than it does policing them, writes Mark Lowe.

Some found it shocking, but Brewdog’s recent tirade against the ASA ("those motherfuckers don't have any jurisdiction over us") will surprise nobody who works in adland, where the phrase ‘why not get it banned?’ has become as wearily predictable as ‘let’s float a giant down the Thames’.

For all its success, Brewdog is a small company with a small budget. Shock tactics are one way to gain national attention and the ASA is the perfect foil for this brand challenger.

Of course, the regulatory ‘smack down’ pre-dates Brewdog by more than two decades. The pioneer was Benetton, which used shock ads with death row models and human organs and subsequent bans to generate acres of news copy in the 90s.

More recent exponents include Paddy Power, which surely wrote an ASA ban into the creative brief for recent offerings like ‘transgender Ascot’ and the ‘Chav Tranquilliser’.

And challenger-turned-market leader Ryanair continues to use rows with the ASA to highlight its own credentials – even referring the regulator to the Office of Fair Trading in 2008. These cases tell us something about the increasingly blurred line between PR and advertising. Whereas press coverage for campaigns was once seen as a desirable bonus, clients now want every word of ‘paid for’ copy to generate ten more in newspapers and, inevitably, on blogs and social media. So when Paddy Power says that it ‘invites a healthy and robust debate on our campaigns’ it is really inviting people to carry on talking about them everywhere, especially on Facebook. At the centre of the maelstrom sits the ASA, a regulator determined to serve the interests of its backer – the ad industry. Shock tactics: A look at some more controversy courting campaigns...

This recent ad for Confused.com has provoked 'outrage', so says The Sun, for appearing to show a couple dogging. The brand insists the female star is simply 'tying her shoelace'.

This Paddy Power ad was banned by the ASA for being offensive to transgender people.

And here's Paddy Power again. This ad was considered the most offensive commercial of 2011 after prompting 1,313 complaints to the ad watchdog, but the ASA allowed it to stay on air.
Channel 4 was accused of racism over this ad used to promote its series Big Fat Gypsy Weddings. It received more than 370 complaints.Mark Lowe is a founding partner at Third City. Follow him on Twitter @markrlowe

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