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ASA hauls Hakanoa and M&C Saatchi over the coals for offensive ginger campaign

Hakanoa Ginger Beer and M&C Saatchi got into a bit of PR strife a few months back after a campaign asking for parents to swap their red-haired kids for a six pack of ginger beer received a public scalding. After the public response—and despite claims about it being an attempt to raise awareness of the discrimination of ginger haired children—the campaign was pulled early. But the Advertising Standards Authority has upheld a complaint about it, saying the posters were socially irresponsible and discriminatory.

There were multiple complainants, but D Brady said “under the advertising principles relating to people, this advertisement is likely to cause ridicule for people with red hair
by stating they are not wanted. The advertisement would not be tolerated if
the comments were aligned to race, religion, sexual orientation or physical
ability; physical characteristics should also not be subjected to ridicule.” 

Hakanoa Ginger Beer’s Rebekah Hay told the Herald that she only agreed to the campaign after M&C Saatchi’s ECD Dave King came to her with the idea after his ginger-haired son had been bullied and her response to the ASA was fairly forthright: “The advertising agency who came up with the
idea are M&C Saatchi. We were acting under their advice and to the
best of our knowledge were not in breach of the Advertising Codes of Practice.” 

King told the Herald he wanted to do something about the laissez-faire attitude towards bullying of ginger-haired kids so he “dreamed up the campaign and told his staff to find a ginger beer company that could be used as a vehicle.” 

In M&C Saatchi’s response, there was no mention of any altruistic goals, aside from the fact that the creatives and the client involved in the “faux promotion” had ginger haired children. But, as Kaleb Francis said on Idealog, “you don’t raise awareness of racism by being racist, just like you wouldn’t put the spotlight on child abuse by abusing children. The creative idea should never get in the way of the message. Instead of reinforcing negative sentiment towards ginger people, why not reward them for standing up in the face of daily abuse by offering ginger people a six pack of Hakanoa Ginger Beer? I can guarantee people would have dyed their hair ginger just to get their hands on some.”

As the response said: 

It is worth mentioning that as strong as the
negative sentiment towards the campaign was, the balance was tipped towards
strongly supportive. That said, without instruction from the ASA, the client
and M&C Saatchi took it upon themselves to proactively respond.                                                          -                      

In preparing these ads, M&C Saatchi went
to great lengths to ensure that extreme and overt hyperbole was used to make it
explicitly apparent that the ad should in no way be construed as realistic. Never was the promotion established as a real redemption offer nor did the
sentiment, in any way reflect the stance of Hakanoa Ginger Beer on red-headed
children. 

Hakanoa Ginger Beer clearly expressed their
apologies to any persons who had misconstrued the nature of the ad and as a
result had to take an offence. As expressed in PR and on the Hakanoa Facebook
page, the creatives involved in the development of the advertising and the
client alike, have ginger haired children in their families. As intended, from the bulk of consumer
feedback, the ad was seen as overtly ridiculous and in no way serious. They
were seen as a small brand with a small budget leveraging a link to ginger in a
way that would generate significant PR. And it did. 

M&C Saatchi responded to the specific code breaches as well and said it has always prepared advertising in line with the principles outlined in the ASA codes. It said the agency and client alike knew that the ad was going to cause controversy,
but this was the strategy and the creative was rigorously (informally)
tested to check the sensitivity and all parties responded favourably, articulating
that the ad was clearly hyperbole. 

As for the offensiveness, it says without doubt those who took issue, took
extreme issue, to the point of death threats towards the client in some of the
more extreme cases. 

“This might say more about the recipient of the advertising,
than the message in the advertising itself.” 

M&C Saatchi pointed to a poll on nzherald.co.nz that showed the
majority of the 11,000 respondents found the campaign humourous as opposed to offensive
(47 percent humourous, 36 percent offensive, 17 percent uncertain).  

“When the ad was originally concepted,
it was deemed necessary to dial up the ridiculous message within the ad to make
the hyperbole even more overt and thus ensuring it wasn’t construed as a
serious or realistic situation. It was always supposed to be a joke.” 

The complaints board noted the proactive
response of the advertiser via the agency when it removed the
advertisement in light of the “negative sentiment” expressed about it and had
apologised to those people who had been offended. And it also looked at previous
rulings (07/100; 08/039 and 08/188) that also involved complaints
about the way red-headed people were depicted. These ads did not meet the threshold to cause serious or widespread
offence in light of generally prevailing community standards, but the complaints board believed this ad differed from those decisions with regard to the level of humour used and in particular as a child
was the object of the joke via both the image and the wording.

While the nzherald.co.nz poll showed offense was not the
majority response, 36 percent was enough to support the ASA’s view that the threshold had been reached. 

The board felt the picture of the red-headed child left with the dairy owner, along
with the words “Let’s
be honest; no one really wants a ginger”
encouraged discrimination against red-heads and that they were a group to be ridiculed. It also said the references to the child in the advertisement
as “it” “(bring it in and we’ll swap it for something you
really want”) was also offensive and
the advertisement was not saved by the allowance for the use of
stereotypes in Basic Principle 4 nor humour and satire provided for in Basic
Principle 6.

Taking all of this into account and also noting the intention had been to use “a small
budget leveraging a link to ginger in a way that would generate significant PR”
the board nanimously agreed the advertisement was in breach of
Basic Principles 4 and 6 of the Code for People in Advertising and Rule 5 and
Basic Principle 4 of the Code of Ethics. 

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