More states could seek to deregister vans with offensive slogans, as ad watchdog upholds more complaints against Wicked Campers

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Transport ministers in multiple Australian states are reportedly looking to follow Tasmania and Queensland’s lead to legislate against offensive slogans appearing on vehicles, after further complaints were made to the Advertising Standards Bureau about camper van hire company Wicked Campers.

Mumbrella reports discussions have begun between the bureau and transport ministers in Victoria, New South Wales, and Western Australia to introduce legislation that would deregister vehicles if they did not comply with advertising standards board rulings.

This news comes in the wake of a fresh set of complaints to the advertising watchdog against the company over the slogans regularly emblazoned on its vans. The most recent complaint was about a vehicle displaying the sentence: “Behind every great woman there is a man checking out her arse”.

Complaints to the Advertising Standards Board called the slogan “rude and disgusting” and said it was humiliating and “making fun” of all women. The complaints were upheld.

As has been the case with previous complaints, Wicked Campers did not provide a response to the watchdog.

In 2014, the standards board upheld 15 complaints against the business. In March this year, the bureau introduced new guidelines for complaining against advertising on vehicles.

The “issue of non-compliance”, as it is referred to by the bureau, has gotten to the point where earlier this year the Queensland state government introduced legislation to deregister any van whose owner failed to remove any offensive slogan from the vehicle after a ruling from the standards board.

The bill said offensive slogans would include “obscene language, that is degrading, that deals inappropriately with sex or violence or very importantly, that discriminates against or vilifies any section of the community”.

Legislation would need to be “quite specific”

Similar legislation could reportedly be rolled out in more states according to sources speaking to Mumbrella. But advertising expert at Belles and Whistles Janey Paton told SmartCompany the jurisdiction will need to be taken on a “case by case” basis so as to not trip up other brands looking to be controversial, but within acceptable limits.

“The state governments will need to be quite specific about how they word the ruling, and perhaps it should be on a case by case basis and considered in line with what is considered offensive to the general public,” Paton says.

“It’s a delicate balance as you don’t want rulings to come down on agencies who are wanting to do edgy but humorous campaigns.”

Paton acknowledges Wicked Campers are a kind of anomaly when it comes to offensive advertising of this nature, saying they often look to “push the boundaries”, and in doing so land themselves a good deal of free publicity.

“They dine out on controversy, and they’re in this particular area of the market which appeals to rebellious, carefree backpackers living life to the full,” she says.

“Clearly there is a purpose in the way they are managing their brand. But how long they can continue down this path remains to be seen, especially if they do go and get deregistered in nearly every state.”

“At that point, they might need to reconsider their approach.”

Paton also believes this action is indicative of the lack of power held by Australia’s advertising watchdog, noting it might be time to let the bureau pack a bit more punch.

“Clearly for a brand like this it’s just a slap on the wrist, and then they get a bit of free publicity. If they’re not changing their strategy or behaviour, perhaps we need to look at how this is enforced,” she says.

SmartCompany contacted Wicked Campers but did not receive a response prior to publication.

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4 years ago

Sense of humour – going, going, gone!