ANALYSIS: Was it stupid to ban Chicken Licken ad?
Banning the TV ad - an 'absolutely stupid' move - compounds the problem the regulator is trying to solve, say experts
A television ban of a tongue-in-cheek Chicken Licken advert “reversing” colonialism has raised questions over the role of the advertising regulator.
The advert had to be removed from television but has gone viral on social media and has been viewed on YouTube more than 384,000 times.
Advertising expert Chris Moerdyk said he believed that in a digital age it was counter-productive to have an advertising body such as the Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB) in existence.
“As soon as you ... ban an advert, that gives it extra publicity. It goes viral on the internet and 100 times more people see it, who wouldn’t have seen it before. They [ARB] are compounding the problem they are trying to solve.”
In the advert, a young African man called Big Mjohnana leaves his village in 1650 on a boat to satisfy his hunger for adventure. He lands in what could be Holland, and discovers and names Europe, reversing colonial history. A man only identified as Sandile Cele complained to the ARB that the advert was offensive. Cele argued it made a “mockery of the struggles of the African people against the colonisation by the Europeans in general, and the persecutions suffered at the hands of the Dutch in particular”.
The ARB said in its ruling that colonialism in Africa was “traumatic”, “cannot be trivialised in any manner” and is “not open for humorous exploitation”.
Chicken Licken disagreed, arguing: “The commercial stems to show South Africans that Chicken Licken believes this country has all the potential to conquer the world and rewrite history from an African perspective.”
As a result of the ban, the advert has made international headlines, with links to the YouTube video giving it global reach. It was featured online on the BBC website, the Guardian, the UK’s Daily Mail, The Hindustan Times in India and SBS.com, an Australian news website.
On Wednesday, Chicken Licken was promoting a link to its advert on Twitter. However, it did remove the advert from television.
Brand strategist Sarah Britten said the ARB’s lack of authority over social media and the wider internet was “a loophole” for the advertiser.
Advertising rulings generally apply to the regulatory body members that include large media companies and television stations. ARB CEO Gail Schimmel said the body had authority over broadcasters.
Despite YouTube still being able to carry the advert, Schimmel said she believed the authority had a role to play.
“We exist to serve innocent consumers who may be watching TV and the advert comes up and they take offence.
“We cannot stop people going to look for the advert online to watch it.
“The reality of these days is you’re never going to pull something off social media completely. Once an ad is out there, it’s out there … We live in an era now where an ad will never completely disappear," said Schimmel.
Amber Mackeurtan from Joe Public United communications confirmed on behalf of Chicken Licken it would appeal the ARB ruling.
Mackeurtan said the company had obtained legal advice after the ARB ruling which said it had two weeks to remove the advert from social media, adding that paid campaigns on Facebook and Twitter were in the process of being pulled.
But Moerdyk said he believed “regulation in a digital age is pointless”.
“If an advert lies, sue them. That’s how it works in other industries.”
Apart from the regulator’s role, Moerdyk also said he believed the ruling in this particular case to have been “absolutely stupid”.
Britten agreed. “If an ad like this can be banned, then there’s no hope for humour in South African advertising. It is the worse ruling ever. I was sad when the ASA [Advertising Standards Authority] went belly up. If the ARB is a sign of things to come, then the very notion of self-regulation is doomed.”
But marketing strategist Mark Ashwell said there needed to be self-regulation because the consumer needs to be protected.
“It is better to be self-regulated than be regulated by government, which is much more dangerous.
“Consumers have to have a voice. It would be dangerous if only industry had a voice [through adverts].”
Ashwell said every complaint was valid, since “that is how self-regulation works”.
“If someone complains, you have to listen.”
From an advertising agency point of view, though, he would have advised Chicken Licken to create an advert with an underlying message, which would have made it easier to defend. He also said that with some brands, such as Nando’s, viewers were accustomed to controversy, but with Chicken Licken the brand is more associated with fun than controversy. For this reason, there might not have been a complaint against Nando’s with an advert like this, because that is what people expect from the brand.
Schimmel said when the ARB reopens in the new year it will investigate whether promoting a banned advert on Twitter was a breach of the ruling.
She was concerned that people were expressing anger on social media about the complainant.
“In this case I am particularly worried about the reaction on social media … I’m quite concerned that people are so angry that somebody has the right to complain.”
Schimmel said the merits of the complaint, and not the number of complaints, guide their rulings.
“We basically got a one-paragraph response from the advertiser (Chicken Licken).”
Schimmel said Chicken Licken subsequently submitted more information, including the positive response it had received to the commercial.
“If they had come to us – and this is probably what will happen on appeal – and said they had done 20 focus groups with diverse groups of people across the country and there was not a single incident of people offended by this, here is the feedback, here is the study, maybe that would have swung the ruling the other way because we would have had more information before us then.”
MacKeurtan responded: "When we were served with the complaint, there were no specific guidelines or instructions on what was required in the response. We were merely requested to send through a response, thus replying with the necessary rationale and justification for the intention of the commercial based on the complaint in question.
"Had we been asked, requested or instructed to provide numerous pages of evidence, feedback or research which may or may not have related to the complaint in question, we may have done so."