Friday 1 July 2011

A reply from the ASA: fuck off.

The team has been exploring the issue of complaining to the ASA that the concept "road tax" is not only non-existent, it helps encourage the belief (as seen in evening post/daily mail comments, Top Gear and video harassment of cyclists), that people on bicycles have no right to be on the road

The complaint was about an advert for a hybrid lexus that was "exempt from Road Tax":
In the advertisement the phrase "road tax" is used to mean "zero-rated Vehicle Excise Duty". While using the term "road tax" may be viewed as a simplification of the truth, those of us who cycle round the UK are continually harassed -in the press and the streets, due to our failure "to pay road tax" -in the belief that we do not do so and hence have no rights to the road.
Car advertisements provide an opportunity to actually educate the customer, rather than re-inforce mistaken beliefs which many motorists -and perhaps the copywrighter- appears to hold, and so reduce conflict between people cycling and driving.
Given that your organisation recently forbade a car advertisement showing adults cycling without a helmet before 21:00 as it may give children a bad impression, it seems only fair that car advertisements that give drivers a bad impression -that we cyclists do not pay for the country's roads- get frowned upon.
The reply
Thank you for contacting the ASA.
We have assessed the ad and your complaint but consider that there are insufficient grounds for ASA intervention on this occasion. Our role as an organisation is to help ensure that advertising is legal, decent, honest and truthful. We can intervene if an ad that has been broadcast appears likely to be in breach of the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising by, for example, being likely to cause serious or widespread offence, being materially misleading or risking causing significant harm.
While I appreciate your point, the ASA has no influence over the creative decisions taken by advertisers (or the agencies that work on their behalf) to use a particular character, situation or theme in their ad campaigns. As long as the content of an ad does not breach our Code, it is really up to the advertisers what they want to put in them. In this case, although we acknowledge that the correct term is “Vehicle Excise Duty”, more commonly used phrases such as “Road Tax” are often used by advertisers to convey a message in a way that will be understood by the widest audience. We also note that this ad makes no direct or implied comments about cyclists or their right to use public roads. I further note that you have made reference to a previous scheduling restriction we required for an ad which showed potentially unsafe cycling practices which could result in harm to children. In that case, we were concerned about the potentially harmful effect of glamorising cycling without a helmet to children. We do not have similarly pressing concerns in relation to this particular ad. We consider that this ad is unlikely to mislead consumers to their detriment or promote a view that only motorists pay for road building and maintenance. For these reasons we will not be taking any further action on this occasion.
I realise this outcome may disappoint you, however we will continue to monitor the public response to this ad.

A shorter summary is: "fuck off"

There is one subtle extra point, that hint that  the more people who complain, the more likely they are to react. Yet the ASA blocked the showing before 21:00 of advert that included adults cycling without a helmet after only a single complaint.

Let's summarise then
  1. Single complaint about adults on bicycles: immediate reaction.
  2. Single complaint about use of "road tax" term: fuck off.
Perhaps if more people were to complain they may react better. Or equally importantly -the more people who complain, the harder it is for them to defend their hypocrisy.


  1. The fact is that it's not just one complaint

    I know other people that have complained too and got the same reply. There certainly needs to be a co-ordinated response because this isn't good enough and definitely smacks of hypocrisy.

    Solidarity brothers and sisters!

    Jim Davis

  2. Time to complain about any ad that might glamourise potentially unsafe driving practices which could result in harm to children. Like pollution. That should about see off any car adverts at all.

  3. Road Tax. Semantics – very powerful! Words shape society’s thinking...