ASA Ruling on Booking.com BV
1017 CE Amsterdam
18 February 2015
Holidays and travel
Number of complaints:
Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam
Summary of Council decision:
Four issues were investigated, all of which were Not upheld.
A TV ad and a cinema ad for a travel website, Booking.com:
a. The TV ad featured scenes of various people arriving at their holiday destinations. The voice-over stated, "This holiday has been a year in the planning. And here you are standing, nay staring down your dreams. The rest of your holiday hinges on the moment you walk through that door. The door opens, you hold your breath and then you realise. You got it right. You got it booking right. Because it doesn't get any better than this. It doesn't get any booking better than this. Look at the view, look at the booking view. This is exactly what you booking needed. Bask in the booking glory at over half a million properties. Planet earth's number one accommodation site. Booking dot com, booking dot yeah." At the end of the ad on-screen text stated "Booking.com", which was replaced by "Booking.yeah" in time with the voice-over.
b. The cinema ad contained the same content as ad (a).
The ASA received 2,345 complaints (2014 + 2015 complaints figures), the majority of which were about the TV ad (a), and the remainder of which related to the cinema ad (b).
1. The majority of complainants, who believed the word "booking" had been substituted in place of a swear word, challenged whether the ads were offensive;
2. A number of complainants challenged whether the ads were irresponsible because they were likely to condone or encourage swearing amongst children;
3. A number of complainants, some of whom reported seeing ad (a) on the CITV channel or during programmes such as a Harry Potter film, and who understood that children were therefore likely to see the ad, challenged whether it was scheduled appropriately.
4. A number of complainants, some of whom reported seeing ad (b) during screenings of films including ‘Paddington’ and ‘Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb’, and who understood that children were therefore likely to see the ad, challenged whether it was appropriately placed.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
1. Booking.com BV stated that the purpose of the ad was to reinforce brand recognition and association in respect of the word 'booking' as both a company name and website URL. Consequently, the word was repeated throughout the ad. They stated that no offensive language was used in the ad and the word 'booking' was clearly enunciated. As such they considered there was no ambiguity that the voice-over artist was stating the word 'booking', a word that was directly relevant and central to their brand. They said that at all times the word was used in a positive tone that conveyed enthusiasm and joy, rather than any negative or derogatory tones often associated with swear words. Booking.com also stated that they had been mindful of the ASA's decision not to uphold complaints relating to other advertisers' campaigns that had used similar approaches, and that the Australian and Canadian authorities had not required amendments to be made to the ad.
Clearcast stated that at script stage they had felt that the word 'booking' used in such a way could be construed as a replacement of an expletive, but on balance had considered that the word was used in context and not in a way that was intentionally offensive. They also felt that the word was not being used gratuitously but rather in the context of the ad, insofar that the advert clearly took place in a holiday location and the word 'booking' was therefore relevant. Clearcast considered that, since the name of the advertiser was Booking.com a certain amount of leeway could be granted for the repeated use of the word, given that these conditions had been satisfied. They stated that when the full ad was seen at a later stage they felt assured that the voice-over was unequivocally saying 'booking' and clearly within the context of booking a holiday.
Clearcast stated that they had approved a similar ad on the basis of an 'ex-kids' restriction, but that this had been given solely on the grounds of the risk of children emulating some of the scenes that featured in the ad. They therefore felt that since there was a precedent of similar wording being approved without a timing restriction and that this similar ad had not attracted any complaints they felt confident that it would be received in good faith by the general public a second time and therefore did not breach the Code on the grounds of social responsibility.
The Cinema Advertising Association (CAA) said they had focused on the language used in the ad and did not feel that the Codes gave them licence to interpret as unacceptable any sound or rhythm that would be evocative of bad language to adults. They acknowledged that bad language was the source of many complaints against features and ads on both TV and cinema, but held that the ad did not contain bad language beyond double entendre. They said they had borne in mind both the ad's potential to offend and the long history of double entendre and word substitution that exists in British humour, which often appeared in pantomime and family entertainment and depended on the innocence or worldliness of viewers. The CAA noted that those who immediately translated the word 'booking' to an expletive were likely to be amused or, in some cases, offended, but considered that whether the source of that offence was the word 'booking', or those viewers' own knowledge of expletives was moot. They took the view that it was not the purpose of the Codes to protect members of the public from being offended by their own worldliness. They felt that if individuals were so offended, any offence caused would not be serious or widespread under current interpretations of the Code.
2. Booking.com stated that, as the ad did not feature any swear words or words that sounded like derivatives of swear words, they considered it could not be reasonably concluded that the ad condoned or encouraged swearing amongst children.
Clearcast stated that whenever they came across a substitute expletive they considered whether it would be likely to cause younger viewers to emulate the word that it substitutes. They stated that they had previously condoned the use of 'freak' and 'funk' as potential substitutes for an expletive without giving it a timing restriction. In this instance they felt that the ad was not likely to encourage children to swear because the word 'booking' was far removed enough to not be associated with the word 'fucking'. They asserted that the word 'booking' itself was not a swear word and if it made children more likely to repeat the word 'booking', this in itself would not be irresponsible or likely to cause physical, mental or social harm, nor encourage antisocial behaviour.
The CAA believed that young children did not generally possess the worldliness to conceive that the word 'booking' could be synonymous with an expletive. With regard to whether it could encourage children to swear, they stated that the word a child would hear throughout the ad was 'booking', a word they felt would bear no weight as an offensive expletive coming from a child, and therefore considered the ad was socially responsible.
3. Booking.com stated that, as they did not consider that it could be reasonably concluded that the ad condoned or encouraging swearing amongst children or that it breached the BCAP Code on the grounds of responsibility, there was no issue with the scheduling of ad (a). They said that the ad was submitted to Clearcast prior to broadcast and the scheduling of the ad was in compliance with their assessment.
Clearcast reiterated their assertion that the word 'booking' was far removed enough from the expletive, and said that they therefore considered the link to the actual expletive was likely to go over the heads of younger viewers. They also stated that, as they had already approved a similar line without a timing restriction, they felt comfortable that the ad could be broadcast without any timing restriction to it on a second occasion. They therefore considered that the scheduling had been judged appropriately.
4. Booking.com stated that, as they did not consider that it could be reasonably concluded that the ad condoned or encouraging swearing amongst children or that it breached the CAP Code on the grounds of responsibility, there was no issue with the placement of ad (b). They said that the ad was submitted to the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) prior to distribution and the placement of the ad was in compliance with their assessment.
The CAA stated that in restricting the ad to screening with PG films and upwards they had considered the current restrictions on such works as the Carry On films, where double entendre was heavily used. They said that these films were largely PG-rated on DVD, and that the BBFC endorsed the CAA's view of the ad in requiring a 'PG' certificate - the same as 'Paddington,' which in the BBFC's view contained dangerous behaviour, mild threat, innuendo and infrequent mild bad language. They stated that the ad utilised the knowing use by the advertiser of the sound and rhythm of the word 'booking', but that it relied on the viewer's worldly interpretation of this for any potency, and that this approach had been used in other advertising campaigns in the past. They stated that the essential innocence of children seemed to have been quite set aside by complainants as being of no relevance whatsoever, but that it was a fundamental point the CAA felt was central to adjudicating on the degree and nature of offensiveness of the ad.
The CAA stated that they had received complaints, all of which expressed the view that such a commercial should not run with PG-rated films or children's films because use of the word 'booking' brought an expletive to the mind of the complainants.
1. Not upheld
The ASA understood that the repetition of the word 'booking' was intended to raise awareness of the 'Booking.com' brand and had used word play in a comical way to express that message. We noted that the word 'booking' was used throughout the ad in a variety of contexts that each lent themselves to substitution with an expletive, and that many viewers would understand the use of 'booking' as word play on the word 'fucking'. However, we considered that the voice-over artist enunciated the word clearly and that it was sufficiently distinct so as not to be generally confused with the word 'fucking'. We also considered that use of the word 'booking' was not gratuitous or out of context because it was directly relevant to the advertiser's brand name and the URL they were promoting. Although we acknowledged that the placement of the word was redolent of the use of expletives we noted that the ad did not expressly use any explicit language and therefore concluded that, although some viewers might find the connotation and word play distasteful, it was unlikely that the ad would cause serious or widespread offence.
On this point we investigated ads (a) and (b) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 4.1 (Harm and offence), and BCAP Code rule 4.2 (Harm and offence), but did not find them in breach.
2. Not upheld
The ASA acknowledged complainants' concerns that the substitution of the word 'booking' could encourage children to swear. However, we considered 'booking' was sufficiently dissimilar to 'fucking' to be unlikely to be recognised as a reference to a swear word by those who were not already familiar with the word or associated phrases, and therefore considered that children would infer that the term was being used as a reference to the advertiser's brand name. We also considered that as the ad did not contain an expletive it was unlikely in itself to promote the use of such words and that those children who were old enough to realise the innuendo would be likely to understand that the humour was derived from the substitution rather than the use of an expletive. We understood that a small number of complainants had reported hearing their children swear after seeing the ad, but considered that because the ad did not contain any expletives this behaviour would not arise from the ad itself. Although some complainants were concerned that the ad was encouraging children to say 'booking' in the manner of the ad (and that some had reported this happening) we did not consider that this was tantamount to having encouraged these children to use expletives. We therefore concluded that the ad was unlikely to condone or encourage swearing amongst children.
On this point we investigated ads (a) and (b) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 (Social responsibility) and 4.1 (Harm and offence), and BCAP Code rules 1.2 (Social responsibility) and 4.1 and 4.9 (Harm and offence), but did not find them in breach.
3. Not upheld
The ASA understood that Clearcast had not applied a scheduling restriction to the ad, and that this was largely based on previous decisions made about other ads that had used similar approaches. We agreed with Clearcast's assertion that 'booking' was sufficiently removed from 'fucking' that it would not register with younger viewers, and also considered that older children who already knew the expletive implied by the ad would be unlikely to be adversely affected by the content. We therefore concluded that the ad was acceptable without a scheduling restriction.
On this point we considered ad (a) under BCAP Code rules 1.2 (Social responsibility) and 32.3 (Scheduling), but did not find it in breach.
4. Not upheld
The ASA understood that the CAA had taken the decision to place the ad during PG film screenings both because the type of humour used was present in films of this rating and because the BBFC had given the ad itself a PG rating, and considered that this was an appropriate way of determining whether the ad should be placed in such a screening. Again, we considered that younger viewers would not understand that 'booking' was a substitution of an expletive, and that older children who understood the humour would not be unfavourably affected by the ad. We therefore concluded that the ad had not been irresponsibly placed.
On this point we considered ad (b) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.3 (Social responsibility), but did not find it in breach.
No further action required.