Would ASAI be brave enough to ban ma­nip­u­la­tive banks ads?

Irish Examiner - - Opinion - Fer­gus Fin­lay

Y“AIB doesn’t ex­ist to ‘back brave’. It would rather sup­port the com­fort­able and the strong

ou know some­times you’re lis­ten­ing to the ra­dio, and one of those voices comes on that stops you in your tracks. Maybe it’s fa­mil­iar­ity, or per­haps just the ur­gency of the mes­sage. This was one of those voices, and I was im­me­di­ately com­pelled to lis­ten.

A man it was. He was speak­ing qui­etly, but with author­ity and de­ter­mi­na­tion. It wasn’t im­me­di­ately clear who his au­di­ence was, but it seemed to me (that’s the beauty of ra­dio) that he was ad­dress­ing a bedrag­gled and scared group of sol­diers. Per­haps just back from a dan­ger­ous mis­sion, per­haps just about to leave on one.

But he wasn’t telling them what to do. In­stead, like a true leader, he was telling them what he was will­ing to do. He’d stand along­side them. He wouldn’t give up — ever. He’d never let the cir­cum­stances get him down. And he’d never let them down.

And then he fin­ished with a sim­ple sen­tence, the kind of sen­tence that put the dan­ger his men faced in its proper con­text. “Let’s get back to work,” he said. I was im­pressed. In­spired even. I’d fol­low this lad into a gap, I thought.

But that was be­fore the mu­sic started, and some woman with a sug­ary sweet voice started bur­bling on about how “we’re back­ing brave”. And I re­alised with a start that I’d been lis­ten­ing to an ad for a com­pany called AIB. Talk about feel­ing like a com­plete eee­jit.

AIB is a com­pany that over­reached it­self so badly, that was man­aged so ir­re­spon­si­bly, that it al­most de­stroyed Ire­land. We had to bail it out and take it into pub­lic own­er­ship at a so­cial and eco­nomic cost that was al­most in­de­scrib­able in its mag­ni­tude. And now it’s spend­ing mil­lions try­ing to per­suade peo­ple to bor­row money from them rather than from any­one else.

De­spite what it tells you, AIB doesn’t ex­ist to “back brave”. It would much rather sup­port the com­fort­able and the strong. It would never want to back you if you’re brave and haven’t a penny to your name. It re­ally wants you to be brave and have plenty of col­lat­eral in case your brav­ery doesn’t work out.

It’s not alone, of course. Bank of Ire­land doesn’t be­lieve in “be­gin” ex­cept as a mar­ket­ing tool. KBC isn’t the “bank of you”, it’s the bank of its share­hold­ers, who ex­pect a tidy div­i­dend each quar­ter.

I’ve writ­ten about this be­fore here. I hon­estly be­lieve that the banks and other fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions get away with the most du­bi­ous pos­si­ble mes­sag­ing, bear­ing no com­par­i­son with the way they fre­quently treat their cus­tomers. Banks have been found guilty of wrong­do­ing again and again in re­la­tion to their prac­tices and the way they treat peo­ple. Yet they get away with the sort of rub­bish and dis­hon­est ad­ver­tis­ing I’ve just de­scribed.

And in the mean­time, an ad for tam­pons is banned.

You may be fa­mil­iar with the ad in ques­tion. It fea­tured two women (one was de­scribed by the Ad­ver­tis­ing Stan­dards Author­ity of Ire­land [the ASAI] as a “young girl”, although both seemed young women to me) dis­cussing the proper use of tam­pons in pretty di­rect and what you might call “in your face” lan­guage. That’s all it was about.

Clearly, the ad was aimed at women (sorry for be­ing so ob­vi­ous), and I’m in no po­si­tion to judge whether the in­for­ma­tion im­parted was true and nec­es­sary. I don’t have to be, though, be­cause the ASAI set up an ex­pert com­mit­tee to con­sider the ad, pre­sum­ably in end­less de­tail.

Ac­cord­ing to them­selves, they ex­am­ined the is­sue of whether the ad was mis­lead­ing. They de­cided and re­ported that it had pro­vided fac­tual in­for­ma­tion in a man­ner that was nei­ther ex­plicit nor graphic. They ex­am­ined the pos­si­bil­ity that the ad was de­mean­ing to women. They de­cided and re­ported that it was nei­ther de­mean­ing, be­lit­tling, nor de­grad­ing to women.

They went on to con­sider the pos­si­bil­ity that the ad was in­ap­pro­pri­ately full of sex­ual in­nu­endo, and they dis­missed that com­pli­ant too. They looked at the is­sue of whether the ad could be dam­ag­ing to chil­dren, and de­cided that it wasn’t. And again at the end of their re­port they reaf­firmed that the ad, “although pre­sented in a light-hearted man­ner, was fac­tual and (they) didn’t con­sider that the con­tent was in­ap­pro­pri­ate”.

And then they banned it. Why? Be­cause even though they could find noth­ing wrong with it, 84 peo­ple had com­plained about it, on all of the grounds above. One com­plainant even said their teenage daugh­ters were mor­ti­fied.

It is an es­tab­lished his­tor­i­cal fact that a former Catholic Arch­bishop of Dublin was in­stru­men­tal in hav­ing a pro­vi­sion in­cluded in Ir­ish law that would en­able the im­por­ta­tion of tam­pons into Ire­land to be banned as pos­si­ble oc­ca­sions of sin. That was a quaint phrase in­tended to im­ply that if el­derly male church­men dis­cov­ered that the in­ser­tion of a tam­pon could cause plea­sure, that would be the end of that.

That was the dis­gust­ing way the Church thought about women back then, of course.

The pro­vi­sion was never used, thank good­ness. But who’d have thought that, 70 years later, a tele­vi­sion ad­vert for the same prod­uct would be banned be­cause 84 peo­ple ob­jected to it?

Eighty-four peo­ple (out of a pop­u­la­tion of 4,234,925 ac­cord­ing to the last Cen­sus) rep­re­sents wide­spread out­rage. So be it, I sup­pose.

I’m only one, a much smaller pro­por­tion. But I find my­self won­der­ing if the ASAI would be so quick to ban ads from pow­er­ful fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions be­cause they are crassly ma­nip­u­la­tive and aimed at lur­ing cus­tomers into a warm and sup­port­ive em­brace.

To be fair, the ASAI did ob­ject to one AIB ad — though on rather sur­pris­ing grounds. It was an ad where a man had bor­rowed money (be­ing brave, no doubt) to buy his wife a new car. The ever-lov­ing and grate­ful woman didn’t hit him over the head and de­mand to know why he had gone to the bank to take out a loan without con­sult­ing her.

In­stead she told him he was “go­ing to get se­ri­ous brownie points” (a bit of sex­ual in­nu­endo there, I’m think­ing) and set out to bring her child — Evan was the boy’s name — for a spin.

The ASAI ob­jected to the ad, again no doubt af­ter rig­or­ous scru­tiny and on the ba­sis of 11 com­plaints, be­cause Evan’s coat was too thick to en­able him to be prop­erly strapped into his safety seat in the back of the car.

It took me a while to fig­ure all this out. The ASAI is just an­other ex­am­ple of a con­cept known as sel­f­reg­u­la­tion — I’m guess­ing be­cause the ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try would be ter­ri­fied of in­de­pen­dent reg­u­la­tion (a bit like the banks are). They do their best I’m sure, and to be fair, they have a code that reads very well.

But slap­ping a bank on the wrists about a mis­take in one of its ads is one thing. Telling the banks that the mil­lions they spend on try­ing to ma­nip­u­late peo­ple into tak­ing out loans is a form of cor­rup­tion — that’s prob­a­bly a step too far for an in­dus­try de­voted to self-reg­u­la­tion, and for an in­dus­try body that’s funded by the in­dus­try it reg­u­lates. Tam­pons, I sup­pose, are an eas­ier tar­get.

AIB is a com­pany that over-reached it­self so badly, that was man­aged so ir­re­spon­si­bly, that it al­most de­stroyed Ire­land.

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