Get Active given the go-ahead to get SA off its ass

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Still from the Virgin Active get active commercial

At the start of the New Year, Virgin Active kicked off its ‘Get off your ass’ campaign to tie in with the banal resolutions that come with January.

The commercial conveys the message to South Africans to get up and get active in a series of scenes contrasting the lazy against the fit. In the background is a swing song with lyrics that highlight a tendency to let procrastination and lethargy ruin those annual resolutions. The song however, did not sit well with some viewers who claimed that it contained an expletive.

Lines from the jingle that was composed by Ogilvy & Mather for this TVC include, “If you’re feeling kind of bummed that you’re not having all the fun, get off your ass,” and “If you think the world’s against ya, cos your nice pants they don’t fit ya, get off your ass.”

The South African Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) handed down its ruling on the case in May 2016. Representing Virgin Active on the matter was ENSafrica, their head of intellectual property, director Gaelyn Scott talks us through the judgement.

“The ASA ruling deals with two separate provisions of the ASA Code,” explains Scott. “The first of these is clause 14 of section II, which deals with advertising and children. This clause says, among other things, that an advertisement should not cause children mental, physical, emotional or moral harm, nor should it leave children with the impression that undesirable behaviour is acceptable.

“The second provision, clause 1 of section II, deals with offensive advertising,” Scott continues. According to the ASA Code, “no advertising may offend against good taste or decency or be offensive to public or sectoral values and sensitivities, unless the advertising is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom.”

Virgin Active responded to the complaint with a number of arguments. It said that the advertisement is motivational, in that it exhorts people to exercise. It said that the expression “Get off your ass” is colloquial, and isn’t out of line with society’s values. It argued that the expression was appropriate, given the light-hearted and fun tone of the advertisement and that there was no visual connection with any body part. It further said that it is generally adults who go to gyms, so the advertisement wasn’t aimed at children. It added that most children know the word ass anyway, because it is often heard on TV.

Scott also referred to earlier ASA decisions that have dealt with the word. In particular, a case involving Renault, in which the ASA held that the phrase “I came, I saw, I kicked ass” was not offensive. The ASA directorate on this occasion made the point that the word ‘ass’ is less offensive than the word ‘arse’. Then a case involving Art Lab, in which the ASA held that the term “kick-ass digital printing” was in line with society’s values. Lastly the Groet die Grotman (Defending the Caveman) case, in which the ASA held that the Afrikaans word for ‘arseholes’ (‘poepholle’) would not harm children, and would not encourage them to use it indiscriminately.

Dealing with the issue of advertising and children, the ASA directorate first referred to the earlier decisions and said, “As is evident from the above, the directorate accepts that the word ass, while not necessarily preferable to parents, would not likely cause mental, emotional or moral harm to children.”

It then discussed the advert’s flighting schedule, and noted that it generally appeared with shows aimed at adults. Finally, explains Scott, it dealt with the argument that the word ass was used excessively, five times in a 42-second commercial. The directorate had no problem with this, saying that it was contextualised and was used to encourage a healthy lifestyle.

Moving on to the offensiveness objection, Scott says the directorate noted that it needed to consider the matter from the viewpoint of the “hypothetical reasonable person.” It added that “this approach adopts neither an oversensitive nor a hypercritical perspective, and takes into consideration relevant factors such as the context and likely audience for the commercial.”

Therefore the directorate concluded that it was satisfied that in the context of a humorous and blithe commercial, the word ‘ass’ would not cause offence.

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Cera-Jane Catton
Cera-Jane Catton is a writer and journalist with years of experience in community newspapers, blogging and freelance journalism. She has worked in a cache of capacities, often finding herself behind or in front of the cameras, intentionally and less so. She has been a stunt double in two Bollywood movies, has worked in various capacities on a number of natural history documentaries, and other international productions shot in South Africa. Cera is a former Screen Africa journalist.

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