Valvoline and Rexona ads fall foul of advertising watchdog for “unsafe” ads

The Advertising Standards Bureau has upheld complaints against advertisements from Valvoline and Rexona on the grounds that the ads depict unsafe driving and bike use.

With cars ads topping the watchdog’s list of most complained about content in 2013, the regulator ruled that a Valvoline oil television ad, created by MJW, depicted unsafe driving practices while also encouraging burnouts and drifting.

The ad shows a driver who takes on a caveman-like appearance, becoming more hairy and dirty as the car gains speed and completes dangerous manoeuvres. However, when the car stops, the driver steps out of the car as a clean-cut modern man. The ad ends with the tagline: “Man like horsepower”.

The complainants took issue with the promotion of “hoon driving” in the ad.

“This is very irresponsible and not acceptable considering the road trauma which results from hoon driving,” said one complaint. “I’m aware car companies can’t use high-speed driving to promote vehicles and this should be considered the same.”

According to Mumbrella, Valvoline plans to seek an independent review of the ruling. The company argued in its response to the complaints that the car drivers in the ad are “clearly depicted as primal men/Neanderthals in a fantasy setting”.

“Nowhere in the advertisement are these drivers glorified or applauded; rather this driving is clearly in the context of a fantasy situation and the portrayal of the drivers as wild creatures clearly implies their behaviour is not sophisticated or desirable and definitely not to be copied,” said the company.

However, the ad board disagreed, instead finding “the distinction between the characters not being ‘real’ or being non-human is not clear”.

Ultimately, the regulator said the ad’s message was “strongly suggestive of types of ways a car could be driven” and this approach “undermine[d] the importance of driving carefully within the law”.

In the case of Rexona, an individual complained to the ad board that a print ad in a Coles Metro Magazine featured images of bike riders and skateboarders without appropriate safety equipment, including a cyclist without a helmet.

The board said “community standards are very clear on the issue of health and safety whilst riding a bicycle” and an image of “an adult riding a bicycle without a helmet is a depiction which is in breach of these community standards”.

Rexona parent company Unilever has said it will not use the advertisement again and has removed the images from “all future advertising materials and image banks”. The company said the images were “inadvertently missed through our internal approval process” and it will provide training to its staff to ensure the case is not repeated.

Dr Danielle Chmielewski-Raimondo, a marketing academic from the University of Melbourne, told SmartCompany the number of ads that test boundaries is on the rise.

“It’s a little bit of the shock factor,” says Chmielewski-Raimondo. “People eventually become desensitised to advertising and sometimes the only way to get people talking about your brand is to test boundaries.”

“Swearing and nudity were once forbidden in advertising but are now perfectly acceptable,” she says.

“There is just so much advertising that sometimes being shocking is the only way to break through the clutter and generate awareness.”

While Chmielewski-Raimondo says sometimes companies will “inadvertently” fall foul of advertising standards and not necessarily think through the consequences of what they include in their campaigns, she believes these types of ads are often backed by a “calculated” strategy, based on the idea that “any publicity is good publicity”.

This is especially the case if the brand in question is not the market leader or is a new entrant in the market, of if there is limited awareness of the brand, says Chmielewski-Raimondo.

“If people start talking about you, then there is some awareness and it can often generate curiosity,” she says. “You become a talking point and this increases top-of-the-mind awareness and brand recall at the point of purchase.”

However, Chmielewski-Raimondo says companies do need to be careful as the rise of social media platforms has meant many members of the community “have no qualms about complaining about advertising”. 


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