From Protein World to Heinz Beanz: the ASA has lost the plot
Needless nannying was taken to a new low last week when the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) decided to ban a Heinz Baked Beanz advert. According to the ASA, the advert encouraged ‘dangerous’ behaviour that posed ‘health and safety’ issues.
The banned ad featured teenagers and young adults tapping out tunes on empty and full cans of baked beans, as part of a promotional campaign called ‘Learn the #CanSong’, which also included a how-to video on YouTube. According to the ASA, some people complained that copying the advert could risk people cutting their hands on the tins.
Of the 208 comments underneath the video, I could only find one person who claimed to have cut themselves.There were more complaints about not being able to follow the musical instructions properly. And a grand total of nine people (out of the millions who probably saw it) complained to the ASA that the ad promoted ‘unsafe’ behaviour.
In an unintentionally funny ruling on the matter, the ASA stated on its website: ‘We noted that to play the “Can Song”, the tin was tapped on its bottom, top and sides, which involved flipping and twirling the can round, and that all actors in the ad were proficient in performing the routine. We considered that viewers encouraged to learn the “Can Song” were unlikely to be as proficient as the actors, but that in any case, particularly given the manoeuvres required, it was possible that mistakes could be made with an empty can, which might include a hand or fingers being inserted into an open tin (with the associated risk of cuts).’
While it’s amusing to observe the po-faced solemnity with which the ASA handled such a petty non-issue, it’s worrying that such a miniscule group of people – fretting over nothing – were accorded such importance. Even worse, the censorious outcome is particularly insulting, as it drags us all down to the lowest common denominator.
A similar situation arose last year during the Protein World controversy. A small group of intolerant feminist ideologues tried to censor Protein World’s ads on the London Underground because they accused the ads of body-shaming women – the ads featured a skinny woman in a bikini alongside the question, ‘Are You Beach Body Ready?’. Most women were able to walk past the ads, barely giving them a second thought. But Protein World was still investigated by the ASA for being potentially ‘offensive’. Luckily, common sense prevailed in that instance and the ads were not ruled to be offensive. Nevertheless, it is ridiculous that this even warranted an investigation in the first place.
Sadly, these kinds of kneejerk, hysterical reactions to non-problems are on the rise, and this does society no favours. It is this combination of over-eager officiousness and meddling busybodies, who regard themselves as the moral overseers of the public’s safety, that gives rise to the censorious culture of Safe Spaces, trigger warnings and No Platforming.
Candice Holdsworth is the founder and editor of Imagine Athena.