It's a question brands and agencies must be scratching their heads over in the aftermath of this week's trio of upheld rulings against Ford, Nissan and Fiat Chrysler.
The ads were all very different, but each was condemned for encouraging unsafe driving.
The Ford ad features stressed out office workers being pushed to breaking point by their daily drudgery, all the while being urged, in the words of Dylan Thomas, not to go quietly into the night. At the end of the ad, a growling Ford Mustang is seen exiting the office car park, finally freeing the office worker from their frustrations.
The Nissan ad focuses on the car's safety credentials, demonstrating technology that allows it to brake hard to avoid a hazard the driver – heading for the airport in a hurry to catch a flight – didn't see.
The Fiat ad depicts friends apparently racing each other on fantastical roads that include a loop the loop, an underwater tunnel and various up-and-down windy roads that seemed to exist just for the sake of it.
The car in the Ford ad plays little more than a fleeting cameo, the Nissan ad showcases the car's safety features and the Fiat Chrysler ad was designed to be so far-fetched that it couldn't possibly be taken seriously as a “how-to” exercise in driving – Fiat Chrysler said the cars weren't even capable of some of the feats they performed on screen and they included a prominent disclaimer on screen. So what could possibly go wrong?
The ASA's gripe with each ad was broadly as follows:
Ford: the ASA said the ad implied that driving an aggressive muscle car is an antidote for anger, an impression heightened by the repetition of the words “rage” and the line “don’t go quietly”. The ASA also didn’t like the fact that the car revved a little too enthusiastically on its way up the exit ramp.
Nissan: to demonstrate the safety features of the car, the driver had to do something to trigger those safety features, here pulling sharply off the motorway and coming face to face with the unsuspecting airport worker. Again, the ASA highlighted the revving of the engine as a signal that the car was being driven dangerously.
Fiat Chrysler: although the ad featured some fantastical “Hot Wheels”-inspired elements, the ASA said that the Hot Wheels reference was unlikely to be widely understood, much of the driving was done on roads not that far removed from reality (really?) and the main message was “speed”.
There has to be some sympathy for the manufacturers here. Nissan is clearly focusing on safety over speed, Ford are advertising a car they give only the most fleeting glimpse of, whilst the Fiat Chrysler ad is set in a place which is clearly beyond the realms of reality. Interestingly, the Nissan and Fiat Chrysler ads seem to have generated only one complaint each, so seems fair to say that the public were pretty untroubled by these ads.
So what can we take from this? I suppose the common theme is the sense that the vehicle is being, or is about to be, driven in an aggressive manner. Gratuitous revving of the engine is only going to add to the ASA’s ire and racing is a red line. The Fiat Chrysler ad focuses more on fun than aggression, but the cars are undoubtedly all being driven hard in ways that would no doubt earn the drivers a few points on their licences – that is, if they survive the loop the loop.
speed was the main message of the ad, and that it portrayed the cars racing and being driven in a manner that condoned or encouraged unsafe or irresponsible driving