Which is hotter? A scantily clad model in a red bikini or the new Piri Piri Chicken Pot Noodle?

The ADgenda: The ASA recently banned a Unilever advert. But they missed a spot.

Which is hotter? A scantily clad model in a red bikini or the new Piri Piri Chicken Pot Noodle? It was this question in a Facebook advert that landed Unilever in hot water recently and resulted in the ad being banning by the Advertising Standards Authority.

But yet at the same time a video, that was part of the same campaign, escaped punishment. It follows the bus journey of a man, frustrated with the lack of spice in his life, who picks up a pot noodle and miraculously finds himself face to face with a dancing woman. As our man begins to get excited, the girl pulls off her top but, much to the Pot Noodle eater’s chagrin, turns into a rather dishevelled man. So what’s the difference?

The ASA do give their reasons for damning one and allowing the other.  They claim the former is unacceptable because of "the presentation of the woman in a sexual pose". The latter passes the test, however, because "the female character was not presented in sexist or degrading way". But yet, whether or not the woman has clothes off or not, surely the sentiment is the same. The Piri Piri Pot Noodle = stripping/stripped woman. If this is the case, it is the fact that the woman is in a bikini and not fully clothed that got the advert banned.

But what is confusing is that another reason the ASA gave for banning the first advert was that "the blatant comparison with the food product was crass and degrading and therefore likely to cause serious offence to some visitors to Pot Noodle Facebook page." This seems to imply that the video advert does not imply a comparison with the food product. But the ASA says that the video is fine because we are aware of the "reality of the situation and that it was actually a man with whom the main character was flirting". But, surely, a realisation of this also means that we should draw a comparison between the food and the woman.

The banned advert simply makes explicit what the allowed advert implies. Banning one advert and not the other, then, serves to reveal that the content of the acceptable advert, when followed to its logical conclusion, is unacceptable. The ASA has contradicted itself.

All in all, this ASA ruling seems to follow a common trend. Explicit bad, implicit fine. Either the ASA should have allowed the comparison to stand, or it should have banned both. As it is, it has skirted the central issue.  

A still from the Unilever advert. Photograph: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
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There are risks as well as opportunities ahead for George Osborne

The Chancellor is in a tight spot, but expect his political wiles to be on full display, says Spencer Thompson.

The most significant fiscal event of this parliament will take place in late November, when the Chancellor presents the spending review setting out his plans for funding government departments over the next four years. This week, across Whitehall and up and down the country, ministers, lobbyists, advocacy groups and town halls are busily finalising their pitches ahead of Friday’s deadline for submissions to the review

It is difficult to overstate the challenge faced by the Chancellor. Under his current spending forecast and planned protections for the NHS, schools, defence and international aid spending, other areas of government will need to be cut by 16.4 per cent in real terms between 2015/16 and 2019/20. Focusing on services spending outside of protected areas, the cumulative cut will reach 26.5 per cent. Despite this, the Chancellor nonetheless has significant room for manoeuvre.

Firstly, under plans unveiled at the budget, the government intends to expand capital investment significantly in both 2018-19 and 2019-20. Over the last parliament capital spending was cut by around a quarter, but between now and 2019-20 it will grow by almost 20 per cent. How this growth in spending should be distributed across departments and between investment projects should be at the heart of the spending review.

In a paper published on Monday, we highlighted three urgent priorities for any additional capital spending: re-balancing transport investment away from London and the greater South East towards the North of England, a £2bn per year boost in public spending on housebuilding, and £1bn of extra investment per year in energy efficiency improvements for fuel-poor households.

Secondly, despite the tough fiscal environment, the Chancellor has the scope to fund a range of areas of policy in dire need of extra resources. These include social care, where rising costs at a time of falling resources are set to generate a severe funding squeeze for local government, 16-19 education, where many 6th-form and FE colleges are at risk of great financial difficulty, and funding a guaranteed paid job for young people in long-term unemployment. Our paper suggests a range of options for how to put these and other areas of policy on a sustainable funding footing.

There is a political angle to this as well. The Conservatives are keen to be seen as a party representing all working people, as shown by the "blue-collar Conservatism" agenda. In addition, the spending review offers the Conservative party the opportunity to return to ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ as a going concern.  If they are truly serious about being seen in this light, this should be reflected in a social investment agenda pursued through the spending review that promotes employment and secures a future for public services outside the NHS and schools.

This will come at a cost, however. In our paper, we show how the Chancellor could fund our package of proposed policies without increasing the pain on other areas of government, while remaining consistent with the government’s fiscal rules that require him to reach a surplus on overall government borrowing by 2019-20. We do not agree that the Government needs to reach a surplus in that year. But given this target wont be scrapped ahead of the spending review, we suggest that he should target a slightly lower surplus in 2019/20 of £7bn, with the deficit the year before being £2bn higher. In addition, we propose several revenue-raising measures in line with recent government tax policy that together would unlock an additional £5bn of resource for government departments.

Make no mistake, this will be a tough settlement for government departments and for public services. But the Chancellor does have a range of options open as he plans the upcoming spending review. Expect his reputation as a highly political Chancellor to be on full display.

Spencer Thompson is economic analyst at IPPR