ASA Adjudication on Central Office of Information
Central Office of Information
11 July 2007
Number of complaints:
Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners
a. A radio ad for the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) played on LBC, Magic, Virgin, Talksport and Reading 107FM featured a man’s voice speaking slowly: “I know where you live and I know when your car tax runs out. So, if you don’t pay or declare your vehicle is off the road, I could have your vehicle towed away and eventually crushed. There is no escape. Pay your car tax. You can’t escape the DVLA computer.”
b. A TV ad showed an anxious-looking man getting into his car in a deserted car park, then driving through streets accompanied by sci-fi music. Voice-over said "The DVLA computer knows if you've renewed your car tax in time and if you have not. If you haven't paid or declared your vehicle is off the road, it will automatically issue you with an £80 penalty. There's no escape. Pay your car tax." Large text held in the centre of the screen at the end of the ad said "YOU CAN'T ESCAPE THE COMPUTER." The DVLA logo and website address was shown underneath.
1. Ten listeners believed the radio ad was unnecessarily threatening and played on fear without justifiable reason.
2. Two of the ten also made the same objection against the TV ad.
BCAP TV Code
BCAP Radio Code
The DVLA said they had deliberately given the ads a serious tone to counter-balance consumer complacency about non-payment of car tax; that the ads were factually true and were not exaggerated. They said non-payment of car tax was illegal; that the Government was aware that over 1 million people deliberately avoided paying and that this lost around £70M in revenue. They said there was a strong correlation between untaxed cars and lack of insurance and MOT, and that the police had also found a correlation with crime. They believed there were genuine public safety concerns underpinning the ads.
They said the ads were part of a campaign that had been thoroughly researched for acceptability before going to air and that the low level of complaints demonstrated they were not causing widespread concern to the public. They said the view that car tax evasion did not warrant such a serious approach was exactly the kind of attitude they intended the ads to address and rectify.
The Radio Advertising Clearance Centre (RACC) said they did not believe the radio ad played on fear without justifiable reason because it also stated the penalties and potential consequences for those who broke the law by failing to tax their vehicle or notify the DVLA that it was off the road.
Magic Radio, one of the radio stations that had aired the ad, said they believed the ads tone was in keeping with the message it put across and that they had received no complaints direct from listeners about it.
Other radio stations that had aired the ad commented as follows:
LBC said an essential function of the ad was to highlight the effectiveness of the governments enforcement procedures and the unavoidance of paying. They said road tax avoidance carried a heavy financial cost to the Government and other road users. They believed the hard-hitting tone of the ad was justified by its purpose and the public interest in deterring road tax avoidance; that most listeners would have understood its intentions and they would not have found it unduly threatening or menacing.
Virgin Radio endorsed the RACCs comments on whether the ad played on fear without justifiable reason. They said they did not believe the ad played excessively on fear; that it stated no untruths and that it affirmed the current penalties and potential consequences that may be faced by those who did not keep their vehicle appropriately taxed or who did not notify the DVLA that it was off the road. They believed the ad was similar in tone and no more threatening than many other public service ads. They saw no reason why it should not be acceptable to their audience, which they said was predominantly adult.
Reading 107FM said they had not received any complaints made directly to them by their listeners.
The Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre (BACC) said they recognised the TV ad was a little dark in tone, but believed the approach was justified by the need to emphasise to car owners their legal obligation to pay their car tax.
The ASA considered the subject matter of the need to pay car tax was established early on in the radio ad and within a reasonable length of time in the TV ad. We considered the law abiding majority of drivers would realise the ads were aimed primarily at those who intended to avoid payment. We recognised the mildly sinister tone of the ads might not be to everyones taste but did not consider the radio ad played unjustifiably on fear or that the TV ad was likely to cause serious or widespread offence or, without good reason, cause serious distress to viewers.
We investigated the radio ad under CAP (Broadcast) Radio Advertising Standards Code Section Two, rule 16 (Superstition and Appeals to Fear) but did not find it in breach.
We investigated the TV ad under CAP (Broadcast) TV Advertising Standards Code rules 6.1 (Offence) and 6.4 (Personal distress) but did not find it in breach.
No action necessary.
Adjudication of the ASA Council (Broadcast)