Two TV ads for Volkswagen, promoting the Advanced Safety Systems feature on the VW Polo, seen in February 2018:
a. The first TV ad depicts a boy at various stages of his life, having accidents on bikes and small vehicles and being rescued by his father. The opening sequence shows the young boy who appeared to have fallen off his tricycle and then cut to the boy driving a go-cart on the pavement towards a man moving a bin, and then as an adolescent who appeared to have fallen off his bike from a makeshift ramp, resulting in a broken arm. A scene also showed him as a young adult standing with his father at a bridge while his moped was being salvaged from the river below. The scene then cuts to him as an adult driving on a dual carriageway with his father in the passenger seat, who appeared to be anxious. When the driver indicated to switch lanes, an icon appeared in the wing mirror and the car was shown to closely miss colliding with a lorry driving in the next lane. On-screen text stated “Blind spot detection is an optional extra”. The ad then showed them driving through a residential area and suddenly braking to a halt to avoid a pedestrian who had walked into the middle of the road. An alert feature flashed on the dashboard behind the steering wheel. The father appeared to be relieved and taps the dashboard. As the car drove on, on-screen text stated “For life’s adventurers….We make the future real”.
b. The second TV ad was as described in ad (a), but with a shortened sequence.
Six complainants challenged whether the ads were irresponsible, because they encouraged dangerous driving by exaggerating the benefit of the vehicle’s safety features.
Volkswagen Group UK Ltd said that the car was not shown to be driven dangerously and there was nothing that condoned or encouraged dangerous, competitive, inconsiderate or irresponsible driving. The purpose of the ad was to promote safe and responsible driving and to highlight how the car’s Advanced Safety Systems could help drivers to manage certain hazards in safety.
They said that in terms of the context of the ad, the Polo driver was shown to be someone who had been clumsy, unlucky and to some extent accident-prone on various occasions while growing up. Throughout the first half of the ad he was shown at different ages. Over the years he had a near-miss in his go-kart when he was a young boy and had also fallen off his bike several times. In two comically exaggerated scenes, he and his pushbike landed high up in a tree (an obviously exaggerated and impossible situation) and his scooter was shown being fished out of a river. His father was present for all of those incidents. The ads then showed the young man when he was old enough to drive his own car.
In terms of the depiction of driving, it was implied that the young man was a new driver without extensive experience and the father hadn’t been in a car with his son many times before. Like many parents, the father was a nervous passenger when his son was driving. The theme was light hearted and the audience was aware that the father was conscious of previous incidents shown in the ad. The young man had obviously passed his test and there were no ‘L’ plates on the vehicle and he was capable of driving on public roads, including multilane roads.
There was no suggestion that the son drove in a way which was dangerous, competitive, inconsiderate or irresponsible at any time. He was a competent driver, though obviously not as experienced as his father. His father’s nervousness was not due to the manner in which his son was driving the vehicle but the natural worry of a protective parent.
They said that on the multilane road the car was shown being overtaken by a lorry, which indicated that the car was not being driven at excessive speed, and that prior to changing lanes the driver was seen checking his mirror, which was clear, before indicating. He was therefore driving safely, in line with the Highway Code. A lorry was shown to appear from nowhere, but the driver remained in full control of his vehicle at all times and did not leave his lane. He made a slight correction to the steering to abort his intended manoeuvre. Volkswagen said that even though the context suggested he was not an experienced driver, he drove relatively well and was not shown driving recklessly, negligently or unlawfully.
When driving in an urban setting there was a close-up shot which showed the car being driven at 23 mph, which was well within the standard speed limit and appropriate for the road and conditions shown. At that speed the car would have been able to stop safely in a controlled manner when a pedestrian entered the road unexpectedly. The ads highlighted safety features which were intended to make driving safer for drivers, other road users and pedestrians, and were not connected car features which caused drivers to divert their attention from the road. They provided safe and appropriate warnings and driver assistance to reduce the possibility of accidents.
They stated that rule 20.5 of the BCAP Code did not prevent advertisers from showing hazards in order to demonstrate the benefit of safety features, and that the ads did not exaggerate the benefit of safety features to consumers or suggest that the vehicle’s features enabled it to be driven faster or in complete safety. The ads promoted two main types of safety technology: Blind Spot Detection and Front Assist.
Blind Spot Detection included a rear traffic alert and assisted the driver when they wanted to change lanes. A radar sensor-controlled warning system monitored the blind spot and if it detected a potentially hazardous situation it would warn the driver using flashing warning lights in the door mirror. If it detected a vehicle moving towards the car, the system provided audible and visual warnings and would initiate breaking if necessary. The Front Assist monitoring system combined Predictive Pedestrian Protection with City Emergency Braking and alerted the driver if it detected vehicles or pedestrians at the edge of the road or on the carriageway via audible and visual warnings as well as gentle application of the brakes. The system would perform an emergency stop applying maximum brake force if the distance was critical and would help to protect other road users and pedestrians as well as averting potential accidents.
They confirmed that the technology featured was depicted accurately without exaggeration. They also said that there was nothing in the ad to suggest that the driver was doing anything other than paying attention to the road at all times or relying on the safety features to enable him to drive inappropriately, as he was shown to be paying attention throughout the driving sequences.
With regards to showcasing the safety technology, they said that when consulting with Clearcast, their agency and advisors had taken great care to ensure that the safety technologies were shown in an accurate and responsible way. The safety features were there to aid the driver and not to take over from the driver, and the driver was shown to use them as such throughout the driving sequences. They stated that it would be impossible for advertisers to showcase and promote safety technologies such as those featured in the ad in a compelling and accurate manner without showing the potentially unsafe situations which would have activated those features.
Clearcast stated that they worked closely with both the advertiser and agency on the creative to ensure that the message and visuals were clearly aligned with safety. They explained that the narrative focused on a parent–child relationship and that accidents could still happen. Although the driver in the ad could have made an effort to stay safe, the same could not have been assumed of other road users such as the heavy goods vehicle which appeared in the right-hand lane and overtook his car despite being forbidden in the Highway Code, and in the scene where the pedestrian was shown to rush out from between two parked cars. Both scenes showed the driver in control of his vehicle, driving responsibly with the potential dangers caused by other people. The father’s concern for the safety of his son was mitigated by the care demonstrated by the son’s driving, and the realisation that he had chosen a vehicle with additional safety features, which was a tool to aid a safe driver. It was not shown to condone irresponsible or dangerous driving.
The ASA considered that the opening sequence of the ads, which featured the driver as a young boy driving a go-kart quickly around a corner and riding his bike up a ramp which resulted in him acquiring various injuries as he was growing up, suggested that the driver engaged in irresponsible behaviour that was likely to result in an accident. We considered that the father’s visibly nervous disposition when sitting in the car as a passenger and the loud indie rock soundtrack played throughout the ads contributed to the impression that the driver was irresponsible.
We noted the scenes which depicted two near miss incidents, prompting the vehicle’s safety features to activate. The first incident, which was featured in ad (a) only, showed the driver attempting to switch lanes, causing the blind spot detector warning to flash in the corner of the wing mirror. However, we considered that the driver was not clearly shown to check his mirrors before indicating and almost turning into the overtaking lorry. The car was also shown to be driven very closely behind the vehicle in front. The second instance showed the vehicle abruptly halting after a pedestrian suddenly stepped out into the road, which activated the braking safety feature. Although ad (b) omitted the scene featuring the blind spot safety feature, we considered that in the context of the driver’s previous mishaps shown in both ads, the on-screen text which read “For Life’s Adventurers” and the suggestion that he was a new driver, implied that there was a reliance on the safety features. This was also implied in the scene where the father, who was aware of the driver’s history of accidents, tapped the dashboard with a sense of relief after avoiding an impact. We therefore considered that the overall message of the ad was of reliance on the vehicle’s safety features to aid those who were likely to drive irresponsibly.
We concluded that the dependency on the Advanced Safety Systems exaggerated the vehicle’s safety features and the overall tone of the ad encouraged irresponsible driving and was in breach of the Code.
The ads breached BCAP Code rules 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 20.5 20.5 Motoring advertisements must not exaggerate the benefit of safety features to consumers or suggest that a vehicle's features enable it to be driven or ridden faster or in complete safety. (Motoring).
The ads must not appear in their current form. We told Volkswagen Group UK Ltd not to encourage irresponsible driving by exaggerating the benefits of the vehicle’s safety features.