Marketing

“Piss up” ad offends some but ad watchdog delivers sober judgment

Kirsten Robb /

One of the ads from the NSW government public safety campaign

A NSW government ad using the term “piss up” has drawn complaints from viewers, but the advertising watchdog has dismissed the objections, finding the term was used colloquially.

The outdoor ad, which is slated to run again in December, features an image of a man sitting in a jail cell with the text, “Out for a piss-up? Stop before it gets ugly”. It is the latest advertisement to cop criticism for the use of offensive language.

A sample of the complaint made to the Advertising Standards Board reads: “I felt offended by the gratuitous use of the word ‘piss’.”

“I was also reacting to my 15-year-old son’s astonishment that this word was used so openly and plainly. This sent the wrong message to young people; that it is OK to swear. What compounds the issue is that someone from the NSW Dept of Health signed off on this ad,” said the complainant.

The ad, which is part of the NSW government campaign entitled ‘Stop before it gets ugly’, ran on the back of NSW taxis from the end of September to mid-October, with a further three week burst planned for next month.

In responding to the Advertising Standard Board, the NSW government said the campaign was designed to tackle the “extremely difficult task of persuading 18 to 30-year-old men to rethink their behaviour when drinking”.

“It is a challenge to get young men to pay attention to behaviour change campaigns,” the government said.

“In order to make sure the message resonated with young males, we needed communications that spoke to them, on their terms, in everyday language.”

The board agreed, deciding the use of the term “piss-up” in the ad was consistent with its colloquial use and is not gratuitous.

Digital marketing expert Michelle Gamble, founder of Marketing Angels, told SmartCompany she was not surprised the board overturned the complaints.

“In terms of ads that are offensive, I would put this further down the bottom of the list,” says Gamble.

Gamble says there are far more concerning issues in advertising material.

“I think it’s more difficult to explain to children about longer lasting erections than this… which is essentially a public health campaign,” she says.  

While Gamble says marketers do need to be wary of using offensive language, it can often be the key to a successful campaign.

“Yes, it’s not the Queen’s English, but it’s language used by the market the ad is targeting, so it is entirely appropriate. It is highly targeted and highly effective,” she says.

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Kirsten Robb

Kirsten Robb is a former journalist at SmartCompany. Previously, she worked at News Corp as a property reporter for Leader Newspapers and the Herald Sun, and holds a Masters of Journalism at Melbourne University.

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