Advertising

“Unnerving and disgusting”: Ozmosis ordered to change “Pay with Pain” extreme sports ads over self-harm claims

Emma Koehn /

Surfwear retailer Ozmosis has been ordered by the advertising watchdog to alter a variety of images included in its “Pay with Pain” promotions, after members of the public complained that the retailer’s TV, online and in-store advertising encouraged self-harm for shoppers to get a good deal.

The Advertising Standards Board received complaints against three different formats for a promotion that Ozmosis ran between September and November.

The campaign offered discounts for purchases of Ripcurl products and other clothing if customers shared evidence of scrapes of bruises incurred during sporting activities like surfing or skateboarding.

Shoppers objected to the imagery used in the ads, including the home page of the company’s online store, which showed an image of a young woman with blood on her hand, holding a skateboard.

“This promotes harm and self-harm,” one complainant wrote.

“One cannot be sure a person would not go so far as to hurt themselves for a discount … it’s unnerving and disgusting.”

Similar complaints were made about a TV spot advertising the same deal, while an in-store poster that showed a surfer with cuts on his shoulder was also criticised. One comment writer said the brand had not taken stock of the fact that “young people are self-harming at higher rates than ever”.

A screenshot from the ‘Pay with Pain’ digital campaign.

In response to the complaints, the company argued it had been incredibly careful in selecting low-impact images for the campaign, which was designed to engage with a cohort of shoppers that were already undertaking sports that carried a risk.

“It is aimed at encouraging participants in action sports (such as surfing or skateboarding) to post evidence of injuries or damage caused as a result of their pursuit of those activities. It does not in any way portray any behaviour physical force by any individuals intended to hurt or kill someone or something,” Ozmosis told the Advertising Standards Board.

The company said it was within community standards to show images including scrapes and bruises, highlighting that shows like Australia’s Funniest Home Videos regularly show injuries incurred through extreme sports.

It denied the campaign would encourage viewers to act in any way other than what they would usually when engaging in sports like surfing.

“While one complaint states that, ‘One cannot be sure that a person would not go so far as to hurt themselves to receive a discount’, it is our view that this is not an outcome that a reasonable person would perceive, or that the campaign encourages or would reward,” the company said. .

The Ad Standards Board considered whether the campaign breached section 2.6 of the Advertiser Code of Ethics, which states advertisers must create content in line with prevailing community values on health and safety.

“The Board noted that the catch line for the campaign is ‘pay with pain’. The Board considered that most members of the community would understand this to mean that there is a direct association with hurting yourself and the deal that is being offered,” the watchdog said in its case report.

The Board upheld the complaints against the specific images of the campaign for which complaints were lodged to the board. This includes ordering a change to remove the young woman from the home page of the promotion’s website, changing the poster of the surfer that was featured in store and banning the TV spot for the campaign.

In response, Ozmosis confirmed it made changes to its website, stopped media buying for the TV campaign and amended the poster to put a bandaid over the surfer’s scars. The retailer said it has also created new creative work for the second part of the campaign.

The second part of the Pay with Pain promotion will continue until December, and the company told the Ad Standards Board it now has a stricter filter for user-generated content, including images of injuries that customers have posted to the site.

Speaking to SmartCompany, a spokesperson for Ozmosis said the company was quick to comply with the Ad Standards Board’s decision by “removing those elements that may have caused offence”.

“The purpose of the campaign was to encourage the passion and stories that come with surf and skate culture, prevalent in our stores and customer base,” the spokesperson said.

Take care with possible interpretations of ads

Director of Inside Out PR, Nicole Reaney, says it is clear why Ozmosis has gone with this kind of campaign to engage a teenage audience, but says brands still need to take care when thinking about how marketing materials could be perceived by audiences.

“The active sports brand is attempting to create an alliance with its core customer group,” she tells SmartCompany.

“It’s a campaign that will easily engage teens by its very nature of celebrating injuries and sharing ‘war stories’.”

However, this case suggests that even a strong idea for engagement could create risks for a business, with Reaney saying in her opinion, the idea is not “a socially responsible campaign” given concerns about physical and mental health among the retailer’s target audience.

Even if an advertisement delivers “entry success” to a brand, this doesn’t make a business immune to concerns about how an ad might be perceived by some parts of its audience, she says.

“This campaign is susceptible to interpretation,” Reaney says, which has prompted concerns about what it might encourage in terms of “daring high-risk actions”.

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is SmartCompany's senior journalist.

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