Grocery delivery business Hello Fresh has been accused of depicting violence in a television ad that showed a women kicking her male partner for drinking milk straight from the bottle.
However, the Advertising Standards Board has dismissed the complaint, saying most television viewers would interpret the behaviour in the ad as “horseplay rather than violence”.
The ad features a voiceover with the words “Do you want to come home to a new way to cook?” and images of a man coming home to find a woman cooking in the kitchen.
At one point the man is seen drinking milk out straight out of the bottle and the woman appears to lift her leg and kick him.
The ad then shows the family sitting down to dinner and a voiceover says: “Hello Fresh is a new grocery delivery service, designed to make dinner time easy”.
The complainant told the Ad Standards Board they had contacted Hello Fresh and was told the ad was “playful and humorous”.
But they argued the ad depicted violence under the guise of “light-heartedness or humour” and that if the gender roles were reversed in the scene, the violence would not be tolerated.
“Violence is violence. I am appalled that this use of violence has been approved at every level of the company (Hello Fresh) and promoted by their advertising agency,” the complainant said.
“Why any company would wish to associate their product with violence and claim it is humorous is unfathomable.
“Presumably, the senior executives of this company would think that beheadings being carried out in the Middle East would be unutterably hilarious should they be perpetrated by females.”
Hello Fresh told the Ad Standards Board it disagreed the commercial portrayed violence.
“It portrays a playful relationship between a happy couple that is in line with community standards,” the company said.
In making its decision the Ad Standards Board noted “the issue of domestic violence is very serious” and should not be made light of.
However, the board considered that in this instance the scene represents a light-hearted and realistic domestic scenario between a couple rather than an act of violence”.
While a minority of board members considered the suggestion the woman was kicking a man was “not justifiable in the context of the advertised product”, the majority said the advertisement depicts a scene that most would interpret as “horseplay rather than violence”.
“The board noted that domestic violence is a very serious issue but considered in this instance that the advertisement did not make light of this issue and that it is not necessary to prohibit normal playful behaviour between family members,” the board ruled.
Janey Paton, director of marketing and public relations firm Belles and Whistles, told SmartCompany this morning from a branding perspective, new brands entering new markets need to be particularly careful when it came to advertising.
She says domestic violence is a “highly topical” issue in recent weeks, with a number of tragic incidents involving men being violent to women partnets.
“You need to be cautious as a new brand in the market,” she says.
“This is not an angle I would recommend for a new brand given domestic violence issues are going on at the moment.
“Obviously this has been tried to be portrayed as human and playful, but interpretation is in the eye of consumer.”
Paton says the board’s dismissal of such a complaint could also be considered as condoning this violence, although she says sometimes these complaints do seem exaggerated.
Paton’s advice for other small businesses is to be cautious.
“There are other ways to evoke humour and connect with target market without being controversial or going down this sort of path,” she says.
“I would advise brands to exercise caution because creating an advertisement for TV is an expensive exercise.
“You need to speak to the target market and need to be relevant to connect with them, but if you’re offending them or creating controversy, the old rules any publicity good publicity do not apply.”
SmartCompany contacted Hello Fresh but did not receive a response prior to publication.