Life jacket company slammed for drowning advertisement that caused “distress” and “unnecessary fear”

Life jacket company slammed for drowning advertisement that caused “distress” and “unnecessary fear”

The advertising watchdog has upheld a complaint against a life jacket company, finding one of its television advertisements did not have reason to cause alarm and distress to viewers.

The ad, for lifejacket manufacturer EBBS, says 240,000 children drown each year and includes a child’s voice saying the words “help me” and the sound of a mother screaming in distress over her dead child. Then the words “Let’s go for zero” appear on the screen.

A sample of complaints against the advertisement highlights how viewers felt “stressed and sickened” after viewing the ad.

“The sound of the woman screaming after her child drowns is absolutely horrific and terrifying to viewers,” one person said.

“I agree with the context of the ad, however, the bloodcurdling screaming is appalling.”

The same person went on to point out the ad was screened at a time when it could be viewed by young children.

“This ad was playing during Looney Tunes (a children’s program), and contains frantic screaming, voices filled with fear and a child’s dying voice – all to advertise EBBS’ safety swimming wear. It’s frightening and shouldn’t be played at any time – let alone when children are watching cartoons after school.”

In the case report, the Advertising Standards Bureau determined the ad breached Section 2.3 of the Advertiser Code of Ethics. This section states that advertisers and marketers should “not present or portray violence unless it is justifiable in the context of the product or service advertised”.

Of particular relevance, according to the board, was the fact the advertisement was not a community awareness campaign but an ad for a commercial company promoting its product. The advertiser did not provide a response to the advertising watchdog.

Michelle Gamble, chief executive of Marketing Angels, told SmartCompany businesses need to take extra care when using shock tactics in their advertising – particularly when those tactics involve children.

“Shock tactics can be very powerful,” says Gamble.

“But they need to be used in a responsible way – you can’t be seen to be using shock tactics for commercial gain. They work really well in public awareness campaigns. The Grim Reaper (AIDS awareness campaign) ad is a good example of that.”

Gamble says if a consumer is already looking for a life jacket, they probably don’t need to be informed about the risks of drowning as they would already be aware.

“They just need to be told why that life jacket is better than another one,” says Gamble.

“You really have got to be careful about those sorts of tactics. We’ve seen several examples of that recently – it can be in poor taste. As seen in ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ there’s often smarter ways to be more engaging when talking about safety issues.”

SmartCompany contacted EBBS for comment but did not receive a response prior to publication.


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