Soda, lemons and advertising ethics

Soda, lemons and advertising ethics

One of the great things about the game Age of Mythology is that those who designed it not only knew their myths, but they also managed to enhance them with the greatest good humour. Who could resist sending the Frost Giant to freeze the enemies by blowing cold air on them? So Age of Mythology has some real attractions for me, not the least of them being that I’m reasonably good at it and can even beat the kids from time to time. I’m old fashioned, and it takes me right back to when I was their age.

Which leads me to Charlie’s recent run-in with the Advertising Standards Complaints Board. Its TV ad started with “Rightio, call us old fashioned but we love the way things used to be when we were nippers!” – and went on to show a cartoon picture of boys peeping over the fence at a naked female neighbour (yeah, right!) then suggestively squeezing lemons for their fruit drink. People complained when it was shown. The ASCB upheld the complaint by a majority, saying that the sexual innuendo has nothing to do with lemon sodas (reminds me of another joke but let’s not go there) and was therefore entirely gratuitous. The combination of child characters engaged in activity with sexual overtones, even in cartoon form, did not meet the standards set out in the Advertising Standards Code of Ethics.

The consequence of the decision is that the ad cannot be shown on mainstream media – at all. For me, one interesting part was that this ad had been approved by TVCAB, the Television Commercial Approvals Bureau – a pre-vetting service run by TVNZ and TV3. This didn’t cut any ice with the ASCB – they just disagreed with the approval.

A cynical person might say that it was worth it in order to publicise the product. But it’s a heck of an expensive way to get publicity, and it’s pretty easy for the Charlie’s lads to generate free publicity anyway.

At the heart of the problem, the advertisement was just plain crass. It’s supposed to sell product and establish a new brand of fizzy drinks. Who exactly is the target group? Who did the company think it would impress? I suspect it would be mothers and grandmothers who would buy that lemon soda. But I digress, because you expect me to give some kind of legal perspective, and I’ll do that: there isn’t one – at least not a statute law issue. The advertising codes are not legal codes, but are voluntary rules set up within the advertising industry. The ASCB rulings are binding through the agreement the media enter into when they join the association. This is private law, not statute law. And it works: without this industry self-regulation we would see a great deal more government control over our advertising. Let’s keep it around for a long time!

This article is intended for general information, and should not be relied on as specific legal advice. You should consult a lawyer for advice relating to your own specific legal problems. Rae Nield can be contacted at

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