Sweet as

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 13 November 2015

advertisingThere is a lot of fizz in the sugar tax debate, not only because soft drinks are involved. Keen to protect their irresponsible compatriots from themselves, an armada of “experts” wants to ban or at least tax anything sweet.

Sweet as. But once we have done that, what else can we outlaw for the sake of the country?

To get a taste for what might be next, you only need to study the complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

The ASA has to decide on whatever advertising people want to see removed from the airwaves, billboards and newspapers.

The complaints reveal how many do-gooders, zealots and sensitive plants there are. Or how many people have a humour bypass. Here are some of my favourites.

In a commercial for Kiwibank home loans, a couple was shown dancing in celebration as they moved into their first home. That was irresponsible, at least in the eyes of one complainant. His reason: The house’s staircase lacked a handrail which made it dangerous to dance around.

In this case, Kiwibank had actually checked that the staircase did not require modification by law because it was an unaltered home (and real customers!). Which raises the question whether the complainant was really worried about health and safety – or whether he found it just hard to accept that some people might be happy sometimes?

Another complainant took offence when watching a commercial for new condoms. Lying in bed, an attractive woman says: “I love sex, and I don’t like condoms. But these condoms are made differently.”

What was allegedly wrong with this commercial was that children might watch it. However, it was only broadcast after 9.30pm. If kids are still up at that time, watching condom ads is probably not the only thing parents should worry about.

A McDonald’s ad showed two fishermen in their boat catching a pink gumboot. However, according to the pink gumboot size limit chart they return the gumboot back to the sea as it was too small.

The complainant did not see the humorous side but maintained that “throwing rubbish back into the ocean is bad advertising for our country and absolutely disgusting.” What would he have preferred? To turn the gumboot into a burger?

Fortunately, of the 147 complaints about TV advertising it received this year, the ASA only upheld 14. The remainder, however, shows how much desire there is to ban things.

And that’s not so sweet.

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