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The Influencers
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A Complaints Letter… About Complaints

Kode, 5 months, 2 weeks ago

KODE’s Dan Mallerman ponders whether technology is making moaning minnies of us all

A Complaints Letter… About Complaints

Moan, whinge, whine and complain. When it comes to grumbling, you’d be hard pushed to beat the Brits. If you do something well, why stop? In fact, if you do something well, do it more. 

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) revealed late last year that more complaints were registered in 2014 than ever before, and that Internet complaints eclipsed those of TV for the first time. 

This isn’t surprising though, is it? If we have learned anything since the Internet’s inception it is that people can get quite lairy when hiding behind a keyboard.  

It wouldn’t be right to suggest that the majority of complaints are without merit; for example, with Paddy Power’s Oscar Pistorius advert ‘Money Back if He Walks’ it’s pretty easy to see why people (5,525 of them) might considered it offensive.  Incidentally, that one received more complaints than any other campaign.  

Kode’s very own Catfish directed a Flora commercial for which the ASA received 183 complaints. Granted, that’s hardly enough to send advertising folk to scramble mode, but it’s enough to place the spot in the Top 10. What crime? What vicious awfulness could have encouraged 183 people to smash their offended fists upon their keyboards, or force them to rage down the phone to some answering device at the other end? Two children (animated) walking in on their parents ‘wrestling’… I don’t need to tell you there is no footage, no silhouetted figures of shame, of the parents in flagrante. 

Is our society really becoming ever more over sensitive? Or is it that we now have platforms that allow us to instantly air our feelings whenever the frothy-mouthed ire hits us. I can’t help but be drawn to the latter point. It is everywhere, not least Twitter. 

There was a time when the audience would have some breathing time, time to allow their blood pressure to resume some form of normality before then being able to assess how truly upset they were/are. These days we need only turn to our phone, which for most us is surgically attached to the palm, in order to call attention to the fact that our delicate sensibilities have been grievously injured  because Booking.com dared to have replaced the word f*cking for the word ‘booking’. 1,768 concerned people (dare I say busy bodies?) took to the ASA venting concern that children might start calling their parents ‘booking w@nkers’.

The complaints were dismissed with a withering assessment. “We also ruled that it was unlikely to encourage swearing amongst children; any children that did pick up on the joke were unlikely to have learned bad language through the ad itself.”

All this said, maybe 5,525 official objections to the ASA is a pretty meagre figure for the most complained about commercial ever.  Perhaps we aren’t that sensitive after all? There are roughly that many people shoehorned into any Central Line train between the hours of 7am and 9pm each day.  Perhaps we are lazy moaners? I know I am. I have a letter to send to Virgin Media that has sat in my ‘draft’ folder for six months. I have been told I must Tweet them instead of writing a letter. Modern day complaining, there is something else I can moan about.

2015 will almost certainly see that 5,252 figure surpassed. Last year’s Protein World ‘Are You Beach Body Ready?’ campaign attempted to dominate the world for a week or two. Research on ASA shows that in July 2015, 378 people registered offence, but I suspect that much of the noise would have been generated not in official complaint channels but in voicing displeasure online.

I once heard Chris Morris – and rarely can a person have faced more repeated accusations of offensiveness than Morris – at a BFI talk suggest the only idea not of value is the one that quite simply isn’t funny (most insulting campaigns are done so with tongue in cheek) and doesn’t work.
Essentially, and to each their own, if something is funny, even if it is offensive, then go for it. I have a high tolerance to being offended, and being offensive (then again, I do think I’m the dictionary definition of ‘hilarious’), and I would tell you all to lump it, bite me and ‘do one’. But I wouldn’t want to be reported to the powers that be.


Dan Mallerman is Head of New Business at KODE