MANUKAU CITY, New Zealand—First Family NZ, a conservative pro-family group, has issued a press release calling the country’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) “naïve and morally bankrupt” for not condemning an ad by a sandwich and smoothie chain that features sexy cartoon fruit.
In its decision, ASA writes of the ad, “A billboard promoting ‘Office Lunches’ supplied by Habitual Fix was situated near the Victoria Street intersection in Auckland. It depicted two animated fruit being chased by a banana partially peeled with a lewd expression on its face. The text included an 0800 number, a website address and a sample of available food items—‘Salads Sandwiches Wraps and Smoothies.’ The same image was printed on the back of a Metrolink receipt. It was entitled ‘Fresh Food with Attitude’ and offered a free Smoothie or Juice with any purchase over $5. It included directions to the ‘Habitual Fix’ locations.”
One complaint received by ASA described the ad thusly. “It's a picture of a banana in a sexually provocative pose chasing females around while they're running in fear. Basically, 1/2 the banana is peeled and the peeled half is mimicking a sexual organ protruding from his clothing (the peeled skin), and he's chasing around frightened female fruit. I find it very disturbing indeed.”
ASA said that other complaint about the ad were received, though it did not say how many. The ASA chairman said that the ad should be assessed according to two specific requirements of the ASA’s Code of Ethics:
“Basic Principle 4: All advertisements should be prepared with a due sense of social responsibility to consumers and to society.
“Rule 5 Offensiveness: Advertisements should not contain anything which in the light of generally prevailing community standards is likely to cause serious or widespread offence taking into account the context, medium, audience and product (including services).”
As part of its decision process, ASA considered comments from Habitual Fix and two publishers of the advertisement, Ezycoupons and iSiteMedia, all of whom defended the appropriateness and use of the ad.
“We've been using this image for the past 18 months in our stores and in our marketing, and have had nothing but compliments and requests for copies of the image for screen savers, posters etc. We've even had a priest have a little chuckle. I don't understand what all the fuss is about,” commented Habitual Fix.
“In terms of the actual complaint filed by the complainant I can confirm that in the advertisement in question, there are no females in view,” wrote a spokesperson for Ezycoupons. “I can confirm there is a banana and I believe the other two stylised characters are, by my judgement a strawberry (fragaria) and pear (pyrus communis). I have somewhat limited knowledge of fruit but I also believe that fruit, by their very nature cannot be either male or female (I think the plants they come from are). In essence they are asexual, and certainly not prone to deviancy or susceptible to such acts.”
iSite, which said the ad is no longer running on its billboards in new Zealand, commented, “We have examined the advertisement and see that while it is does show a piece of banana unpeeling its skin; this is due to the nature of the key message. The advertisement is meant to highlight that at Habitual Fix they have nothing to hide, whilst demonstrating that their food has attitude. We feel this advertisement does not cause widespread offence. We feel that due to the way the advertisement plays on the ‘Attitude' of the food, it is a humorous and clever way to demonstrate the key message.
The ASA rejected complaints about the ad, though First Family claims that a minority of the board agreed “with the complainant that the advertisements were ‘offensive’ and ‘likely to cause serious or widespread offence taking into account the context, medium and audience.’”
In the end, despite a majority of its Board agreeing with the complainants, the ASA Board decided, “A majority of the Complaints Board was satisfied that while the image was somewhat lacking in taste, it did not reach the threshold to breach the Code of Ethics. In the majority view the characters were fruit—a banana, a pear and a strawberry—and younger children that may see the advertisement, in this context, were unlikely to interpret the image as sexual, the banana as phallic, the other fruit as female or the scene being representative of a type of sexual assault. In the majority view, the image was clearly hyperbolic and not only consistent with, but reinforced the slogan, ‘Fresh Food with Attitude.’”
In response, First Family is requesting that the ASA Board be changed and that all advertisements be “pre-vetted.” It also warns that the decision gives a green light to advertisers “to use sexualized and offensive messages in the form of cartoons using fruit and vegetables. Families don’t need much imagination to realize how far that can be taken and how dangerous it is.”
First Family may very likely have in mind the horrifying prospect of ads that depict two bananas with nary a mango in sight.
It should be noted that First Family was itself the recipient of a favorable ruling by ASA in February of this year, after a complaint was lodged regarding one of its billboards, which contained the phrase, “Great marriages grow great kids.”
The complainant “was of the view that the advertisement was offensive to those people who were not married and had children, and was of the view the advertisement should have said ‘Great relationships grow great kids’ instead.”
The ASA decision “noted that the advertisement did not actively denigrate those people who were not married,” and, “in the light of generally prevailing community standards, was not likely to cause serious or widespread offence.”