A video ad for Tall Order BMX, seen on YouTube in late August 2018, featured Sebastian Keep, a professional BMX rider, who said “Excuse me if I look a little terrified … today we are heading to what can only be described as a plughole … it’s a massive reservoir, it’s got an overflow system which … has a massive spout thing … we’re going to head to it see if we can get down in there”. Three other male riders were also introduced who were all wearing Tall Order branded clothing, and Sebastian said they were coming on the “mission” too. The ad showed a shot of a Severn Trent Water sign mounted on a gate stating “Cyclists please dismount … We give notice that this way has not been dedicated as a highway bridleway or footpath, nor is there any intention to so dedicate it”. As a person cycled past the sign one of the BMX riders shouted “Rebel!”.
The video then showed the overflow drain, a large funnel-shaped structure with stone steps shelving steeply into a very deep hole, with water at the bottom. It included shots of Sebastian riding a BMX around the inside of the drain on an upper step, including footage from a body-worn camera. The person filming said, “One little slip could end Sebastian Keep”, and Sebastian immediately made a mistake and steadied himself, and several people screamed and laughed. There were also shots of others cycling around the hole, one of whom performed a wheelie. One person was shown standing on a narrow step, low down in the hole, taking a selfie, and the voice-over said, “Ben don’t go any further down than that, you’ve got your back to it, you’re on a slippery mossy ledge”. At the end Sebastian said, “One thing is for sure, and this is epic, this is absolutely epic! I’m having such a good Sunday morning”.
Sebastian then explained they were going to a drainage system below the reservoir. They lowered their bikes down a wall with ropes, and climbed down a tall ladder with a locked gate at the top. As one person climbed down the ladder the person filming said “… for real though be careful … if you fall from this height it’s all over”. The video then showed various shots of the group exploring and cycling through underground tunnels, and performing stunts in a large pipe. At the end, on-screen text stated “tall order”.
Severn Trent Water, who believed the video featured illegal trespassing and dangerous behaviours that could be emulated, challenged whether the ad was irresponsible.
Seventies Ltd t/a Tall Order BMX (Tall Order) said the BMX riders featuring in the video were professionals who had a higher level of skill and expertise than average amateur BMX riders, similar to Formula One racing drivers. Whilst the apparent “stunts” might appear to be risky, they said consideration must be given to those who were actually performing them. They said the video was part of the story-book and was only a demonstration of skill by professional BMX riders who wore or utilised a certain type and style of clothing and accessories, and the more risk that was involved, the more exciting the video would be.
Tall Order said the YouTube video did not feature any children and was not targeted at children because it was age-gated for viewers over 18 years. They said responsibility for other people’s actions should not be fixed to such skilled riders, especially when they had taken care to only make the video available to adults, and at no point did anyone encourage members of the public to copy anything in the video.
Tall Order said the actions in the video did not break the law or encourage anybody to do so, and there were no signs to indicate that the areas shown at the reservoir were out of bounds to the public. They said the video was filmed around the Ladyblower reservoir and Severn Trent website encouraged visitors to go and explore there, highlighting that there was family friendly cycling in the immediate areas around the reservoirs, and that their published maps did not indicate any out of bounds areas. They said that at the point in the video which showed the gate with the sign telling cyclists to dismount, all of the Tall Order riders had acted responsibly by following those instructions and dismounting their bikes. When a member of the public cycled past, one of the riders commented “Rebel” because he ignored the sign.
Google said that the video was uploaded to the Sebastian Keep YouTube channel, and that YouTube was a platform and was not responsible for the content of the third-party videos that appeared on the site. While YouTube had put in place systems to enable users to report content that they objected to, and content which did not comply with the YouTube Community Guidelines would be removed from YouTube, they said it was the responsibility of the video owner to abide by applicable law and regulations, including the CAP Code.
The Code required that marketing communications were prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society, and did not condone or encourage unsafe practices.
In the footage of the group initially at the ‘plug-hole’ overflow drain, the BMX riders cycled and performed stunts on the stone steps around the drain, and climbed down to the narrow lower steps and took selfies. The steps shelved steeply into a very deep hole with water at the bottom, and because some steps were covered with moss and debris they were likely to be slippery. There did not appear to be any safety equipment or measures in place in prevent the group from falling into the large drain, and the ASA considered there was a risk of serious injury or death in those scenes.
The group were also filmed climbing down a very tall metal ladder in order to access an entry to the tunnel system several meters below. The area was fenced off at surface level and there was a locked gate at the top of the ladder, which partially obstructed the first three rungs. There also appeared to be no safety measures in place to prevent the group from falling from the ladder, and we considered there was a risk of serious injury or death in that scene too. We were also concerned that there were further risks when the group were cycling inside the network of drainage tunnels, for example in the event of a sudden change in water level.
We understood there was a warning sign stating “No unauthorised access” at the point the group initially entered the walled reservoir to reach the overflow drain. Additionally, the group climbed two fences and used the locked ladder in order to reach the underground tunnel entrance, and we understood there was a sign on the main entrance gate to that area which stated “Private land … No public right of way”. While the land around the reservoir was generally open to the public, we understood that the group had entered two areas which were out of bounds, the large overflow drain and the underground drainage tunnels, and they were therefore trespassing in those instances.
The featured riders referred to the trip to the reservoir as their “mission” and said it was “epic”, and laughed and screamed on various occasions where there was high risk involved, in particular when one person said, “One little slip could end Sebastian Keep” as he cycled around the steps of the overflow drain, and “… if you fall from this height it’s all over” when one person was climbing down the tall ladder. The group also emphasised how scary the activities were on several occasions. We considered that the overall tone of the ad in relation to the BMX riders was rebellious, daring and reckless, and that the risks involved in the stunts and activities were trivialised because they were presented in a humorous way.
Because the activities and stunts in the video involved considerable risks and were reckless in nature, and those actions were presented in a trivialised way, and the group were trespassing in potentially hazardous areas which were out of bounds to the public, we concluded that the ad was socially irresponsible and condoned and encouraged unsafe practices.
The ad breached CAP Code rules 1.3 1.3 Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society. (Social responsibly) and 4.5 4.5 Marketing communications, especially those addressed to or depicting a child, must not condone or encourage an unsafe practice (see Section 5: Children). (Harm and offence).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Seventies Ltd t/a Tall Order BMX to ensure that future ads did not contain anything which trivialised dangerous behaviour or trespassing, or that condoned or encouraged unsafe practices, including trespassing in potentially hazardous locations.