Experts say an ad for coffee chain Muzz Buzz that was banned by the Advertising Standards Board (ASB) after complaints about its “creepy overtones” was created for the publicity without consideration for the advertising code of ethics.
The advertisement, which has since been taken down, depicts a man buying a cold drink from a drive through coffee shop, before pouring the contents of the drink on the head of a boy sitting next to him in the passenger’s seat.
The man then takes his finger and wipes some of the drink off the boy’s head, licking his finger clean and remarking “Mmm, delicious sticky boy”. The boy remains passive throughout the exchange.
The advertisement garnered over 40 complaints to the ASB, all claiming the ad contained undertones of child abuse and “smacks of paedophilia”.
“At best the treatment of the child is abusive, child depicted as passive and powerless, at worst has creepy overtones of sexual predator,” one complainant said.
“These three ads are violent, messy and disgusting, promoting a shocking message to children – the very audience they target. These three ads are not responsible,” another wrote.
“I have a 12yo daughter who is repelled by these ads and has pressured me to complain.”
In a response to the complaints, Muzz Buzz conceded the advertisement is inappropriate and said it would take the feedback “very seriously”.
“The concerns around sexualisation of children have, frankly, shocked us. Again, strong focus was taken during casting and direction to ensure Muzz Buzz did not imply a sexual or predatory nature to the adult male’s actions,” the company said.
“Our intention was for the adult male, representing a father to be perceived as a quirky, unusual character who wasn’t aware of society’s norms around drinking juice.”
The board concluded the advertisement breached three different sections of the AANA Code of Ethics, surrounding bullying, domestic violence, sexualisation of children, and health and safety within prevailing community standards.
“In the Board’s view the depiction in the advertisement is a depiction of inappropriate behaviour that could be considered as an assault and that this is a depiction of violence in the context of this advertisement,” the Board said.
“The Board considered that the action of pouring a drink over someone’s head was clearly negative and held the victim up to be humiliated. The Board considered that depiction in conjunction with a suggestion that the behaviour had happened previously did amount to a depiction of bullying.”
Muzz Buzz immediately took the advertisement down and apologised for any distress caused to the broader public.
“No other reason” but for publicity
With the ad contravening so many areas of the Code of Ethics, advertising expert at Ampersand Legal Narissa Corrigan believes the ad was made purely for publicity.
“There’s no other reason to make this ad other than for publicity. Even then, I’m not sure how many people would be coming into the stores after seeing that ad,” Corrigan told SmartCompany.
“I think it’s more likely to create a bad reputation for the brand. I’ve never heard of an ad this terrible.”
Melbourne University academic and advertising expert Lauren Rosewarne agrees, saying the ad appears to have ignored the Code of Ethics “altogether”.
“The commercial contravenes a number of sections so it’s unlikely that any of this was pure accident,” she says.
Rosewarne believes the advertisement was one that was “highly open to interpretation”. Muzz Buzz defended the advertisement as “taste driven silliness”, but Rosewarne says that’s difficult to believe.
“While it’s possible to read the ad as just absurd and ridiculous, there’s also the alternate reading which taps into our knowledge of recurring images and phrases for pornography,” she says.
“The latter interpretation makes it difficult to see the advertisement as exclusively ridiculous.”
As for silliness, Corrigan believes there’s plenty of room for that within current advertising guidelines.
“There’s nothing in the guidelines to stop them from running funny ads, they just have to be within prevailing standards,” she says.
“There’s no restriction on funniness, but when you start potentially sexualising children it’s gross and no reasonable person could think it’s funny.”
SmartCompany contacted Muzz Buzz but did not receive a response prior to publication.