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.