A video ad on www.bmw.co.uk featured footage of a BMW M4 car being driven on a road and a racetrack. The ad began with an empty shot of a race circuit and of a tree-lined road, then showed footage of a man driving the car while lowering the convertible roof interspersed with footage of a man in a crash helmet and racing overalls. These images were followed by shots of the second man driving the car on the race track, including skidding, accelerating and cornering, intercut with footage of the first man driving on the road. At the end of the ad the cars were shown drawing to a stop in matching on-screen positions and with very similar backgrounds, and footage alternated between each man exiting the car.
The complainant, who believed the ad featured and encouraged unsafe driving, challenged whether the ad was socially irresponsible.
BMW (UK) Ltd said the ad differentiated clearly between the sedate cruising of one M4 on public roads, where the Highway Code was obeyed at all times, and the on-track element. They stated that the road driver was calm and in control, that he did not overtake other traffic, cross white lines, or exceed UK speed limits, and that the roads were clear of other vehicles and pedestrians. They said that engine noise was not included in the ad in order to avoid making speed or acceleration the focus, and that the main message of the ad was the design of the car not speed or acceleration.
BMW stated that the sections of the ad featuring the car on a race track were clearly differentiated through the red curbs on the closed track and the driver in protective clothing, including a full-face helmet. They noted that it was permissible to demonstrate a vehicle's capabilities on a race track and that the M4 was the only car on the circuit. They said the speedometer was only seen reading 119 km/h (approximately 73 mph) and they believed that this was not an excessive speed in a closed track environment. BMW stated that the stylistic device of the cars stopping in matching positions with similar backgrounds was deliberately used only at the end of the ad in order to avoid the impression of unsafe or irresponsible driving while on public roads.
The ASA noted that BMW believed the two elements of the ad were clearly differentiated from each other, and that the footage of the driver on the road did not demonstrate road use contrary to the Highway Code. However, we considered that in some shots it was unclear as to which setting was being shown. Although we acknowledged the CAP Code stated that the capability of a car could be demonstrated in a track setting if it was obviously not in use as a public highway, we considered that the editing of the ad blurred the distinction between track and road. We also considered that the intercutting of the footage drew clear links between the road and racing use of the car, and therefore condoned the use of the car in the manner shown by both drivers. The ad featured the car cutting corners, skidding, and driving fast, and the sound of the vehicle accelerating was also audible. We therefore considered that the majority of the ad focused on the way the car was being driven and its performance and speed. Because we considered that the ad encouraged unsafe and irresponsible driving we concluded that it breached the Code.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not condone or encourage unsafe or irresponsible driving. If it could be emulated, marketing communications must not depict a driving practice that is likely to condone or encourage a breach of those rules of the Highway Code that are legal requirements if that driving practice seems to take place on a public road or in a public space. Vehicles' capabilities may be demonstrated on a track or circuit if it is obviously not in use as a public highway.
Marketing communications must not depict speed in a way that might encourage motorists to drive irresponsibly or to break the law.
To avoid the implication of irresponsible driving through excessive speed, care must be taken in the style of presentation of marketing communications. Particular care must be taken in, for example, cinema commercials and in marketing communications that appear in electronic media to avoid moving images that imply excessive speed. If they are shown in normal driving circumstances on public roads, vehicles must be seen not to exceed UK speed limits. and 19.4 19.4 Marketers must not make speed or acceleration the main message of their marketing communications. Marketing communications may give general information about a vehicle's performance, such as acceleration and mid-range statistics, braking power, road-holding and top speed. (Motoring).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told BMW (UK) Ltd to ensure that future ads did not link racetrack and road driving styles in a way that focused on speed or encourage a manner of driving that would be irresponsible.