Vodafone forced to pull offensive ad

Summary:The Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) has ruled that Vodafone's (VHA) latest advertisement for its Infinite mobile phone plans fell in the realm of bad taste, encouraging cyber bullying and the denigration of women.

The Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) has ruled that Vodafone's (VHA) latest advertisement for its Infinite mobile phone plans fell in the realm of bad taste, encouraging cyber bullying and the denigration of women.

The ad depicts two men trying to one-up each other with jokes about one man's mother and a joke about the other's girlfriend. The ASB describes the ad in its ruling (PDF) as:

A young man sitting on a chair and asking the question "What's power to me?" The man answers that power to him is "Getting one up on my mate". He describes in a jocular manner a text message conversation between him and his friend. His friend sent him a text message saying, "your mum said hi". The man laughs and explains his response. He takes a picture of a dog, uploads it to Facebook and tags his friend's girlfriend. The man then describes the reaction of his friend's girlfriend: "she's not really talking to me at the moment", before remarking, "Well, we don't get on anyway". The remainder of the advertisement is directed at the inclusions of the Vodafone Infinite plans (when in Australia, customers get infinite calls to any standard national numbers, infinite TXT to any personal mobile and infinite access to popular social networking sites) and concludes "Power to you, Vodafone".

The ASB received complaints about the ad that accused Vodafone of disrespecting others, denigrating women and encouraging cyber bullying.

"Vodafone needs to be more respectful of people — this isn't funny. We have just had a series of incidents in sport and elsewhere degrading people by this form of sexual innuendo and sledging. Surely it is inappropriate to use it as a means to sell a product," one complaint read.

Vodafone asserted that the ad was intended in jest.

VHA submits that the advertisement is light-hearted and comical in nature, and that the reasonable viewer of the commercial would neither take offence to the content of the advertisement, nor consider that VHA was in any way discriminating or vilifying women or portraying violence.

The advertisement is intended to be a demonstration of banter between friends over text message. The theme is "one upmanship" as each man tries to get "one up" on the other to demonstrate their superiority. It is intended to be purely in jest. There is no physical violence in the advertisement, and VHA does not agree that the advertisement promotes violence or cyber bullying.

The conversational and friendly way the man tells the story makes it clear that there is no intention to cause any harm to his friend's girlfriend on Facebook. In the same way, the tone of the advertisement is clearly not intended to discriminate against, or vilify, women.

Despite the carrier's assertions, the ASB deemed the ad inappropriate and in breach of section 2.2 of the Advertiser Code of Ethics, forcing Vodafone to pull it from screens.

"While the advertisement attempts to make a joke of the situation, the majority of the board considered that the description of one man uploading a photo to Facebook without the "tagged" person's permission and intentionally describing the person in a manner that is offensive to that person is a description of behaviour that is considered inappropriate by most members of the community," the ASB said in its determination.

Vodafone has apologised for any offence caused.

Topics: Legal, E-Commerce, Telcos


A fresh recruit onto the tech journalism battlefield, Luke Hopewell is eager to see some action. After a tour of duty in the belly of the Telstra beast, he is keen to report big stories on the enterprise beat. Drawing on past experience in radio, print and magazine, he plans to ask all the tough questions you want answered.

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