Discount retailer Chemist Warehouse has been forced to withdraw advertising after the Advertising Standards Board upheld a complaint about its ‘Smell Like a Sir’ Father’s Day ad campaign because of concerns the ad linked children with tobacco.
The television ad features a young boy and man wearing fake moustaches and bow ties and shows the man holding a pipe next to text that reads “Smell like a Sir! This Father’s Day”.
A complaint received by the Ad Standards Board about the “Smell Like A Sir” claimed a child’s image was being used in an ad for tobacco.
“It almost looks as though the man is offering the pipe to him,” the complainant said.
While it is not the first time the discount chemist has been in the firing line for breaching advertising standards, Chemist Warehouse initially dismissed the complaint.
“To be frank we considered the complaint so fatuous and unfounded that we did not believe a response would be necessary,” Chemist Warehouse said to the Ad Standards Board.
The retailer rejected the claim the ad portrayed pipe smoking as being “sophisticated”, saying the ad is meant to be a “light hearted satirical look at those clichéd representations of British nobility”.
“To reach this conclusion it must be that the image of the pipe smoker presented is one of a desirable, suave, avant-garde urbane, cosmopolitan gentlemen that many would aspire to emulate,” the company said.
“It is not reasonable that any of these adjectives would be used to describe the clichéd, parody of British nobility that our pipe smoker is meant to represent.”
“He is more laughable then aspirational, and this is the intent. He is meant to be a parody a source of amusement not desire.”
While noting it is not its role to assess whether an ad complies with the legislation that covers advertising cigarettes or tobacco products, the standards board considered if the depiction contravened prevailing community standards on health and safety.
The board took a “strong view” that images seen to glorify smoking should not be permitted.
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“The board noted the use of a child in the advertisement and considered that although the pipe is being used as a prop, along with the false moustaches and bow-ties, in the board’s view the use of a smoking instrument next to a child should not be encouraged,” it said.
Marketing expert Michelle Gamble of Marketing Angels told SmartCompany she believes the “whole thing reeks of naivety”.
“I’m surprised [Chemist Warehouse] would create an ad with a child and a pipe,” Gamble says.
“It’s clear that Chemist Warehouse is not intending to promote tobacco products but it’s naive to think someone would not have picked up on the relationship between a child in the picture and tobacco.”
Gamble says the discount retailer’s rationale about the satirical nature of the ad is also foolhardy.
“I don’t think children pick on satire,” she says.
“I think their assumption is that it’s targeted at adults, who will pick on satire, but children exposed to these ads won’t pick up on satire.”
Gamble says businesses must be careful when using children in advertising, as well as understand that satire can be easily misinterpreted.
“Where children are involved in an ad and you are relying on satire, you have to be careful,” she says.
“If using a child in an ad, don’t assume it will only be noticed by adults.”
When in doubt, businesses should test their ad campaigns on others before launching, says Gamble.
“You don’t have to pay for expensive focus groups,” she says.
SmartCompany contacted Chemist Warehouse but did not receive a response prior to publication.