A TV ad and a video on demand (VOD) ad for Motorway, a used car selling service:
a. The TV ad, seen during August and September 2021, opened with the voice-over which said, “This is the new way to sell your car, the sell your car from home way, the car dealers compete to give you the best price way … this is the motorway.” The ad featured a house and a car on the back of a trailer and several cars driving on the road behind it. The cars were numbered and had prices above them. As they drove on the road, the cars crossed lanes, overtook each other and two drivers were shown smiling and looking happy as they did so. The ad ended with one of the drivers jumping out of the moving car and into the trailer to unhook the house from the trailer.
b. The VOD ad, seen on All 4 on 31 August 2021, was the same as ad (a).
The complainants, who believed the ads condoned and encouraged driving behaviour that was dangerous, challenged whether the ads were irresponsible.
Motorway Online Ltd t/a as Motorway said that the ad was designed to be fantastical and not in the real world. They said that at the start of the ads, the man was shown using the Motorway service to sell his car while in the bath. Once he had selected his car, a full sized brick house was shown on the back of a truck with Motorway branding being driven down an empty motorway. Motorway said those scenes cemented the idea that ad was not set in the real world and that the bath scene, which was seen several times, emphasised that it was fantastical and was happening in the man’s imagination.
Motorway said the ads also communicated that different dealers had bid on the car that was being sold to get the seller the best price. They said the cars were numbered and did not look like everyday cars. They believed the computer game style graphic “price bids” which appeared above the cars added to the unrealistic scenery.
Motorway said the driving style was very choreographed and showed the drivers were in complete control at all times. They said this was supported by the driver’s relaxed demeanour and showed the simplicity of the Motorway service. They said their research demonstrated that consumers understood that Motorway offered a service where car dealers submitted price bids on cars for sale and that it was reasonable that viewers would attribute the car dealers smiles to the price bids placed on the seller’s car. They said the stunt which showed one of the drivers jumping into the cab of the truck from one of the cars was also designed to show that it was set in a controlled environment and not on a real motorway. In the final scene, the truck was seen heading off into the sunset on an empty non-descript motorway as part of the sellers imagination.
In relation to the TV ad, Clearcast said they gave advice to the agency that the driving scenes should be clearly hyperbolic and that the scene where the driver climbs out of the moving van into the cabin should be surreal and look over the top, so that nothing in the ad would be easy to emulate. They said they also advised that the road should be clearly closed off and shouldn’t look as it if it was in the real world, which was achieved by making sure the cars were the only vehicles on the road. The ad showed a man in his bathtub, while his house was on the back of a truck and the computer style graphic flashing prices above the cars also further helped to create the fantastical setting. They said the ad was in an unrealistic, over-the-top setting.
All 4 said the VOD ad had been approved by Clearcast.
The CAP and BCAP Codes stated that ads must not condone or encourage irresponsible driving. The CAP Code further specified that, 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.
The ads opened with a man in the bath with a mobile phone in his hand. The house he was in had a car on the driveway and was on the back of a truck driving along on a motorway. Four more cars were later shown driving on the same road and alongside the truck with prices above them and the word “dealer” and a number written on the side of the car. The ASA understood that the cars represented potential buyers and the bids they had made for the car on the truck which was being sold.
The cars were shown overtaking each other which we understood was intended to show the dealers outbidding each other until the highest bid was made and the car representing that deal was out in front. We acknowledged that some elements of the ad were fantastical, such as the house being on the back of a trailer, the man jumping from the car into the truck. We also accepted the ad was styled as a computer game with bids appearing above the cars, before the seller accepted a bid on his phone.
However, we noted that the scene was set on a motorway with ordinary cars and drivers which would be recognisable to viewers as a real-life setting. The cars were shown engaging in some level of competition to get ahead by sharply overtaking each other and weaving in and out of lanes. We considered the driving manoeuvres featured would be dangerous and irresponsible if emulated in real life on a public highway. The drivers were shown smiling, laughing and pleased about overtaking the other cars in that manner, which we considered condoned the competitive style of driving depicted.
Because we considered the driving depicted in the ads condoned competitive and unsafe driving, we concluded the ads were irresponsible.
Ad (a) breached BCAP Code rules
Advertisements must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to the audience and to society.
(Social responsibility) and
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.
(Motoring) and ad (b) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Advertisements must comply with the law and broadcasters must make that a condition of acceptance.
(Social responsibility) and
Advertisements must not feature, imply, condone or encourage irresponsible or immoderate drinking. That applies to both the amount of drink and the way drinking is portrayed.
References to, or suggestions of, buying repeat rounds of alcoholic drinks are not acceptable. That does not prevent, for example, someone buying a drink for each member of a group. It does, however, prevent any suggestion that other members of the group will buy a round. (Motoring).
The ads must not appear or be broadcast again in their current form. We told Motorway Online Ltd t/a Motorway not to condone or encourage irresponsible driving in their ads.