The ASA has ruled that a television ad was not irresponsible in itself, but could cause children to emulate unsafe behaviour and so it should have been scheduled more appropriately.

The advert concerned was for Hydrow which sells rowing machines. It began with a woman on a rowing machine. Later in the ad, she was standing by a zebra crossing while cars went by. The woman’s hands started to glow and she ran through the traffic at high speed while cars around her appeared to be moving in slow motion. The woman was then shown back on the rowing machine. 

Hydrow Ltd said that the ad was highly fantastical and that viewers would interpret the ad as such and not as a real-life portrayal of crossing a road.  In addition, it said that the woman was shown crossing at a zebra crossing which was a safe and appropriate place, and the cars were slowing down when coming to the crossing and so complied with the law in the UK. The woman crossed in slow motion and none of the cars hit her, swerved or came close to her. Therefore, Hydrow believed that the sequence was not presented as risk-taking and did not glamourise dangerous behaviour.

They also argued that the ad contained nothing that appealed to children. Their products and the ad’s topics of mindfulness and exercise were not interesting for children, and the actress was an adult woman who was unlikely to appeal to children or be an individual that children would have wanted to emulate. Further, young children would always be supervised while crossing roads. They said older children would have been able to distinguish the fictional elements within the ad and it would not have caused them to ignore their usual road safety knowledge.

The ASA did not uphold the complaints that the ad encouraged dangerous behaviour.  However, it did uphold the complaints about encouraging behaviour that a child might emulate. 

The ASA did not consider that the ad would cause adults to ignore their usual road safety knowledge and walk out into the road while traffic was moving.  Therefore, the ad did not encourage dangerous behaviour crossing a road for an adult audience, and was not irresponsible.

However, the ad had been cleared without a scheduling restriction that would have prevented it from being broadcast in or around programmes made for, or specifically targeted at, children (an ex-kids restriction). The ASA concluded that adults would be able to distinguish between the fictional elements within the ad, but children might not have appreciated the distinction, especially in the context of crossing a road and road safety. On that basis, it concluded that there was a danger that children could emulate the behaviour in the ad and therefore considered the ad was irresponsible.

The ASA seems to have taken a common sense approach to these complaints.  Marketers should be careful about how they portray possible risk-taking behaviour. The decision further illustrates that some thought be given to scheduling restrictions.

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