A TV advertisement for Suzuki promoting the Suzuki Vitara opened with the car in question being driven at normal speed by a male driver, through the streets of a city. It drove over a bridge and into the countryside. A child’s voiceover delivered the following message:
“I’m 36, I’m a husband, a manager, and still very good looking (the driver nods at himself in the overhead mirror in approval). In two hours, I have the most important meeting of my life. But first it’s time to play.”
The driver then selected “Sport” mode and drove the car off-road onto a dirt track surrounded by water and mountains. The driver was laughing and appeared to be having fun. The car was then driven in a circle like fashion and left an imprint in the dusty terrain as if a “doughnut” manoeuvre had just been performed.
The voiceover then stated:
“The new Suzuki Vitara”. This was accompanied by on-screen text which stated:
“TIME TO PLAY”.
Two complaints were received concerning the advertisement.
Both complainants objected to the way the car was driven at high speed, performing turns and leaving doughnut type imprints in the dusty ground. They both considered the use of the tagline “time to play” in conjunction with a vehicle being driven at speed to be inappropriate.
One of the complainants also objected to the use of a child’s voiceover in the advertisement.
Complaints 1 and 2
The advertisers said that as both complaints referred to similar issues their response applied equally to each complaint.
They said as a responsible car manufacturer they took their responsibilities to drivers and other road users extremely seriously both in relation to the manufacturing of their vehicles and their marketing campaigns. They viewed their responsibilities to drivers and other road users as a matter of critical importance and they had no intention of, or desire to, condone or encourage unsafe or irresponsible driving in their advertisements. They said they were very conscious of their commitment to preparing marketing communications with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society and under no circumstances would they set out to condone dangerous behaviour or unsafe practices. They said that the advertisement in question had created a playful tone, rather than one which encouraged behaviour which was prejudicial to health or safety.
The advertisers said that the purpose of the advertisement had been to showcase the versatility of the Suzuki as a family car with off-road capabilities. They said that while they recognised and appreciated that the ASAI was entitled to investigate any single complaint, they asked that it be taken into account in this instance that the advertisement had been airing since June 2018 and only two complaints had been received in the Republic of Ireland and one in the UK.
They said that the driver in this instance had been a mature man with responsibilities, a wife and career as set out in the narrative by the internal voice. The child-like voiceover had been used to reflect the inner voice of the driver who was enjoying the experience a car with features such as those of the Suzuki Vitara. They said that it had never been implied at any point that the car was being driven by a child and it was clearly being driven safely and in a responsible fashion on the road by a mature adult.
The advertisers said that in the opening scenes of the advertisement the man had been portrayed driving responsibly on main roads including streets, a motorway, a bridge and an underpass. There had been no suggestion of excessive speed, acceleration, braking or engine revving. The car had been driven steadily in a straight line on the road and with the driver in full control. There had never been any suggestion that the car was a toy or a suitable plaything for children. The driver was portrayed as being considerate and he had clearly indicated when switching lanes and overtaking. The car had not been driven at speed and the advertisers said they were aware of their responsibility not to encourage or condone dangerous behaviour or unsafe practices.
In the second part of the advertisement, the advertisers said that the driver was depicted leaving the road and driving uphill in a straight line. There had been no portrayal of harsh braking and the acceleration, gear changes and deceleration had been smooth and consistent. They considered it to be clear that the area which he entered was a quarry and it bore no resemblance to a public road. The dust trail from the car was what one would expect to see from such a location. They said that it was also clear that there were no other cars, approaching hazards or obstacle in the location depicted. They said they accepted that the car had been driven faster in this location than “on the road” but they were comfortable that at all times no speed limits had been broken and that the use of the reference “time to play” had not been used in reference to speed or dangerous behaviour.
The advertisers acknowledged that both complainants had referred to the car “doing turns” or “turning like a doughnut”. They accepted that at the end of the off-road section the car had been shown to be turning at a location where there were doughnut tracks. They reiterated that the location involved had not been a public road and there were no other vehicles featured in the location. They pointed out that the driver had not been portrayed
carrying out the “doughnut” manoeuvre and had not made a full turn. There had been no engine noise or tyre screeching which would be associated with such a manoeuvre and likewise there had been no dangerous or unsafe behaviour featured.
In conclusion the advertisers said that that when the marketing communication was viewed as a whole and in context it had not portrayed speeding, doing turns nor had it sought to encourage any dangerous or unsafe practices.
The advertisers said that it was their belief that the driver featured in their advertisement had driven responsibly and safely whether it was on or off the public road.
The Complaints Committee considered the details of the complaints and the advertisers’ response.
The Committee accepted that while it had not been the intention of the advertisers to condone unsafe driving practices, that the off-road manoeuvres conducted by the driver alongside the use of the tagline “it’s time to play” was inappropriate and condoned unsafe practices.
The Committee considered that while the driver was not portrayed conducting the actual “doughnut” manoeuvre that the overall impression created by the advertisement was that he had. The considered that the refence to ‘play’ in conjunction with an advertisement for a motor car to be irresponsible and to be in breach of Sections 3.3 and 3.24 of the Code.
Complaint 1 was upheld.
The Committee in noting the objection to a child’s voiceover per se, noted that the Code did not prohibit the use of children’s voices in advertising. They also noted that while the child’s voice was used to portray the driver’s ‘inner child’, no children were depicted in the advertisement. They did not consider that a breach of the Code had arisen.
Complaint 2 was not upheld.
The advertising should not be used in the same format again.