A radio advertisement for Harvey Norman stated:
“Would you like a free coffee? How about free doughnuts? What about 10% off a laptop or Apple Mac. Well, if you’re collecting your Leaving Cert results you’re in luck. Because at Harvey Norman we’re gonna give you all three tomorrow.
Call into any Harvey Norman store tomorrow from 9.30am and get free coffee and doughnuts and 10% off any laptop or Apple Mac - that’ll help with a sore head. So enjoy tonight and see you tomorrow at Harvey Norman.”
The complainant considered that the advertisement was aimed at Leaving Certificate students who were awaiting their exam results and that the reference to free coffee and doughnuts helping with a sore head was a reference to Leaving Certificate students traditionally drinking on their results night. In view of the fact that most Leaving Certificate students were under 18 and therefore under the age for purchasing alcohol, he considered that the advertisement implied that it was normal and acceptable for under 18’s to both purchase and consume alcohol.
The advertisers stated that the advertisement offered Leaving Certificate students coffee and doughnuts on the day after they received their exam results and gave them an opportunity to avail of discounts on a number of products. They said that their intention was to allow the students to look at technology products which were available to them as they moved onto the next stage of their education or started their working lives. They said that at no stage in the advertisement did they mention alcohol or encourage the consumption of alcohol, they were simply offering coffee and doughnuts and this was something they regularly did as part of their promotional activity.
In regards to the complaint, they said that the complainant was focusing on the last few seconds of a 30 second advertisement and was not considering the whole advertisement. They considered that the complainant was giving their personal opinion on what might or might not happen in society.
The Secretariat wrote to the advertisers and requested further comments on the reference to ‘sore heads’ and how it could be interpreted by listeners as being linked to the Leaving Certificate results.
In reply, the advertisers stated that the word ‘sorehead’ in the Collins English Dictionary refers to a disgruntled person. They also said that there was no reference to alcohol or underage drinking in any reference to sorehead in any dictionary. They said that if a consumer wanted to presume that the reference was to the Leaving Certificate results, they could have as easily presumed that the reference was to someone who may not have performed as well as they had wanted. They also said that a consumer could look at it from the perspective of the pressure that a student feels in advance of the results being announced and the stress during that period which could leave them irritable and grumpy.
They said that consumers can listen to an advertisement and sometimes interpret the words or meanings in different ways. They referred to the complainant’s interpretation in this case that the advertisement implied it was both normal and acceptable for underage people to purchase alcohol. They were unsure how consumers interpreted this from an advertisement for technology products which was offering soon-to-be third level students, or those who were potentially entering the workforce, discounts, along with free coffee and doughnuts. They considered that it was completely unreasonable for the listener to come to this conclusion as their advertisement made no mention of alcohol, underage drinking or drunkenness.
They finished by stating that all of their marketing communications were prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and society in general, in line with the principles of the Code.
The Complaints Committee considered the detail of the complaint and the advertisers’ response, including the further information provided. While the Committee noted the advertisers’ comments in regards to the use of the term ‘sorehead’, they reviewed the wording of the advertisement and noted that it stated “that will help with a sore head. So enjoy tonight…” In view of the connection of the sore head with enjoying a night, they considered that it was not unreasonable for a listener to assume that this was referencing over indulgence associated with celebrations after getting Leaving Certificate results. The Committee did not consider that it was socially responsible to make light of over indulgence, particularly when a number of those involved were likely to be under the legal drinking age. In the circumstances the Committee considered that the advertisement was in breach of Section 2.2 of the Code.
The advertisement should not reappear in its current form.