Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, one of which was Upheld and the other was Not upheld.
A TV ad for the Honda brand:
The ad featured intermittent red lettering and brief clips of Honda products against a salt-plain backdrop. The red lettering stated "3 2 1 Limits. We have all got them. That voice that tells you you've done all you could do. This is the furthest I can go. I will not be able to top that. I have given my best. But when you force yourself to push. I mean really REALLY push. [clip of robot] You can surprise yourself. Suddenly you find you can go faster than you thought. And go past the limit you thought you had. To places you didn't think you could reach. It feels pretty good, right? Because we are all capable of doing the most incredible things if we just push more. Push to reach new places. [clip of car] Push to do new things. [clip of car] Push to a new kind of forwards. [clip of car] To improve and improve and improve and improve and improve and improve. [clip of jet] Keep pushing and get to better faster. [clip of car] This is the year. Honda. The Power Of Dreams”.
The ASA received two complaints.
1. One complainant challenged whether the ad encouraged dangerous or irresponsible driving because they felt the speed of all of the cars featured was a central element to the ad; and
2. Another complainant challenged whether the ad had demonstrated the handling characteristics of the black car and two red cars outside the context of safety and whether, through the clips shown of the cars and the on-screen text, it encouraged dangerous or irresponsible driving by encouraging viewers to break the speed limit.
1. & 2. Honda Motor Europe Ltd (Honda) said the ad was created to inspire people to push their perceived limits using a speed-reading technique. In doing so, it challenged viewers to push themselves through speed-reading to catch up with the increased speed of the text appearing on screen. They said that was directly related to the sentiment of pushing oneself and that you could go faster than you thought. They said any reference, explicit or otherwise, to speed did not relate to anything other than speed-reading the on-screen text.
Honda said they took great care to ensure that any messaging about the cars was not related to speed, for example the claim "push to reach new places" was about exploration; "push to do new things" was about freedom; and "push to a new kind of forwards" was about the Type R, Honda's most advanced car. Additionally, they said they had taken steps to remove the cars from recognisable real-life driving scenarios by showing them magically appearing and disappearing; no driver was seen; the environment in which the cars were shown was a highly abstract salt plain; the ad used odd and playful sound effects and showed the cars moving in an abstract way – magically moving backwards and forwards and the boot shutting by itself.
Honda said the sentiment of the ad only encouraged viewers to test their speed-reading skills. It did not encourage people to drive irresponsibly or in a way which was dangerous and it did not suggest driving within the speed limit was boring. They said the ad was neither a demonstration of the cars' handling characteristics nor was it intended to be, which was clear from the ad's depiction on a salt plain; an environment far removed from roads and public highways.
Clearcast felt the message of the ad was clear – the innovation of Honda's new cars. They noted that the cars were shown alongside the inspirational claims "push to new places", "push to do new things" and "push to a new kind of forwards", and finally "to improve …" which appeared alongside the Honda jet. They said the countdown was done in a playful way and directed viewers to the speed-reading element of the advert. It invited viewers to prepare themselves to get involved; pushing them to keep up with what was being said. They did not consider countdown was linked in any way to the cars shown.
Clearcast said they had carefully considered the claim "suddenly you find you can go faster than you thought", but when considered in the context of the whole ad, they felt it was clearly linked to the speed-reading challenge, and not the speed of the cars. Similarly, they felt the claim "keep pushing and get to better faster" was about improvement, rather than the speed of the cars.
Clearcast felt the presentation of the cars did not condone or encourage dangerous driving due to the surreal nature of the ad. They noted the cars were on a limbo dessert setting and not on a road; the cars were also quite clearly speeded up and slowed down, very brief and highly stylised to showcase the beauty of the cars rather than their handling. They also said the cars were not on screen for long which they believed highlighted that they were not central to theme of the ad and noted that the wording took up the majority of the ad. For those reasons, they were happy to clear the ad for broadcast.
The ASA noted the complainant's concern that the speed of the cars was a central element of the ad. Although the cars appeared briefly on screen, we noted the fast moving text included phrases such as "suddenly you find you can go faster than you thought", "And go past the limit you thought you had. To places you didn't think you could reach. It feels pretty good, right? ..." and "Keep pushing and get to better faster". The clips of the cars which appeared to show them moving at speed were coupled with sound effects. In addition, we considered viewers were unlikely to interpret the fast changing text which appeared throughout the ad to be a speed-reading challenge; rather it was one likely to play on a general theme of speed. While the ad did not include realistic depictions of the vehicles being driven in a dangerous manner, we considered, when taken altogether, the fast changing on-screen text, references to "pushing yourself" and "going faster", the scenes of the cars, sound effects and accompanying sound track was likely to leave viewers with the impression that speed was the central message of the ad. For those reasons, we therefore concluded that the ad breached the Code, which states that speed must not be the main message of an ad.
The ad breached BCAP Code rule 20.4 20.4 Motoring advertisements must not refer to speed in a way that might condone or encourage dangerous, competitive, inconsiderate or irresponsible driving or motorcycling. Factual statements about a vehicle's speed or acceleration are permissible but must not be presented as a reason for preferring the advertised vehicle. Speed or acceleration claims must not be the main selling message of an advertisement. (Motoring).
2. Not upheld
We understood the complainant was concerned that the "fast motion" scenes of the cars, the sound effects, the speed at which the on-screen text appeared and some of the phrases used within that text represented the cars' speed, handling characteristics and acceleration. They were also concerned that the scene of the boot dropping shut and the "fast motion" scenes, if emulated in real-life could cause serious or fatal injury.
As noted above, we concluded speed was the central element of the ad. Notwithstanding that, we considered the ad's setting did not represent a recognisable or realistic portrayal of real-life driving conditions. It was far removed from the environment in which the featured road cars would be used and we noted the brief scenes of the cars were stylised clips of parts of manoeuvres, sometimes in fast or slow motion. We therefore considered that viewers were likely to recognise that the ad was highly stylised and set in a mostly context-free environment. Consequently, we considered viewers were unlikely to interpret the brief scenes of the cars as real-life demonstrations of the featured cars' handling characteristics.
Having considered the combination of the elements of the ad – the cars, sound effects, rapid on-screen text and phrases within that text – we concluded it did not demonstrate the handling characteristics of the advertiser’s vehicles or condone or encourage unsafe or irresponsible driving.
On this point, we investigated the ad under BCAP Code rules 1.2 1.2 Advertisements must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to the audience and to society. (Social responsibility), 20.1 20.1 Advertisements must not condone or encourage dangerous, competitive, inconsiderate or irresponsible driving or motorcycling. Advertisements must not suggest that driving or motorcycling safely is staid or boring. and 20.3 20.3 Motoring advertisements must not demonstrate power, acceleration or handling characteristics except in a clear context of safety. Reference to those characteristics must not suggest excitement, aggression or competitiveness. (Motoring) but did not find it in breach.
The ad must not be broadcast again in its current form. We told Honda Motor Europe Ltd to ensure they did not make speed the central element of their advertising.