Advertising watchdog upholds complaint about “hoon” BMW ad

The Advertising Standards Board has upheld a complaint against an overseas-filmed cinema advertisement for BMW, finding that the car manufacturer has fallen foul of the industry’s code of conduct by depicting unsafe driving.

The ad, which shows a BMW 2 Series Coupé being driven on US highways and unsealed desert roads, attracted complaints from cinema-goers, who took issue with the speed and method of driving shown.

One complainant told the board the ad “portrays an unfavourable message, contrary to safe and sensible driving”.

“The advertisement commenced with the vehicle being accelerated such that it lost traction of its driving wheels, then accelerating at speed and preceded to display 360s and significant loss of traction, typical of hoon activity,” they said.

However, BMW argued that the complaint was “frivolous” and should be dismissed by the board on the basis that the speed of the car shown in the ad was the result of “high standard” editing, which was used to “create dramatic visual effect”.

The car company said that the version of the ad that screened in Australian cinemas was “sped up in pace from the original stock footage” to match a localised soundtrack, as well as for “cost reasons”.

Further, it said that the creative techniques used in the ad “are likely to have been exaggerated from the viewer’s perspective in a cinema environment with Dolby surround sound and high definition, super-size cinema screens”.

The ad campaign finished its run in local cinemas on April 17 and BMW said “it is unfortunate that this complaint has come about at the conclusion of a long and otherwise successful campaign”.

The ASB ruled the ad breached the conditions surrounding motor vehicle advertising in Australia, which are outlined in the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries Advertising for Motor Vehicles Voluntary Code of Practice.

The FCAI code states that car ads cannot in any way show people driving unsafely, including people driving in excess of speed limits.

The board found the BMW ad depicting unsafe driving through the use of a tachometer showing high engine revolutions, the sound of an engine revving and the image of a tyre tread left on the road by the car. It also said the ad contained images of the car swerving and changing direction suddenly, which gave the “overall suggestion of a vehicle being driven in a reckless manner which is unsafe”.

The board’s ruling follows an increase in the number of complaints about car ads received by the ASB in 2013, with car ads topping the regulator’s list of most complained about content. The ASB said in its 2013 Review of Operations that the increase can largely be attributed to complaints about a television advertisement for Nissan

The ASB received 105 complaints about cars ads in 2013, 8 of which were upheld. This compares to 80 complaints about cars ads received in 2012 and just 23 complaints in 2011. 

Marketing Angels found Michelle Gamble told SmartCompany she can understand why members of the public complained about the ad, given the “aggressive” nature of the driving shown, which appears to have been enhanced from the original version of the ad.

While Gamble says it is unlikely that small businesses would be in a similar position as BMW in having access to internationally produced advertising content, she said all businesses need to be careful when taking their products into new markets that have different advertising regulations.

“The lesson is for businesses to be careful when taking things into new markets,” said Gamble. “You either need to be working with someone locally or have done your homework.”

SmartCompany contacted BMW Australia but did not receive a response before deadline.

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