The Horse is dead. The Horse deserved to die, but not like this. And you should be very vocal about what killed it.
Long-time readers of the blog will be aware that the first posts were about The Nice Way Code. If you want the introduction into why The Nice Way Code was awful then I suggest reading The Car and The Kitten, but the post that’s more worthwhile reading before this one is The Horse and The Python (and, unsurprisingly, mainly the Horse bit).
If you’re in a hurry, however, simply watch this.
In a ruling today, the Advertising Standards Authority banned the broadcast of Think Horse. If you’ve read my assessment of it then you might think that’s no bad thing, until you read their reasoning (the text of the adjudication is available here and I would recommend reading it; it’s quite short and it includes mention of a pile of information submitted by Cycling Scotland in defence of the advert).
The ASA assessment states:
The ASA acknowledged that the ad was primarily encouraging motorists to take care when driving within the vicinity of cyclists.
We noted that the cyclist in the final scene was not wearing a helmet or any other safety attire, and appeared to be more than 0.5 metres from the parking lane. We also acknowledged that the cyclist was shown in broad daylight on a fairly large lane without any traffic.
We understood that UK law did not require cyclists to wear helmets or cycle at least 0.5 metres from the kerb. However, under the Highway Code it was recommended as good practice for cyclists to wear helmets. Therefore, we considered that the scene featuring the cyclist on a road without wearing a helmet undermined the recommendations set out in the Highway Code. Furthermore, we were concerned that whilst the cyclist was more than 0.5 metres from the kerb, they appeared to be located more in the centre of the lane when the car behind overtook them and the car almost had to enter the right lane of traffic. Therefore, for those reasons we concluded the ad was socially irresponsible and likely to condone or encourage behaviour prejudicial to health and safety.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules 1.2 (Social responsibility), 4.1 and 4.4 (Harm and offence).
To be clear:
- Despite acknowledging the cycle positioning recommended by national cycling standards, cycling organisations, other organisations such as TfL, and police forces across the country, the ASA contradicts this advice by quite inexplicably finding issue with riding in the middle of the lane, without any strong references to counter those supplied by Cycling Scotland.
- The ASA also very strongly implies that they take issue with cars moving across the central line (or indeed into another lane), despite such a view being clearly contradictory to rule 163 of the Highway Code – and this in the same breath as citing the Highway Code in banning the advert for the absence of a helmet in the final scene.
- The ASA is also inconsistent with their own rulings, in requiring cycling to be portrayed in accordance with advisory aspects of the Highway Code but permitting driving to be portrayed without observing such aspects.
Advertising is not the real world
One of the rules which the ASA deems Think Horse to have breached is BCAP 4.4, which states:
Advertisements must not include material that is likely to condone or encourage behaviour that prejudices health or safety.
This, however, is precisely what the ASA ruling is doing.
It is encouraging people on bicycles to behave in a manner that does not afford them space to avoid a collision or a hazard (wait for the very last second of the video and spot the potholes).
And it is encouraging people in cars to behave in a manner that does not afford people on bicycles such space.
What the ASA claims to disallow in advertising, because of its effect in the real world, is exactly what it is itself doing in the real world. Simply replace the word “advertisements” with “adjudications” and the ASA would fail its own criteria.
The ruling is as hypocritical as it is bizarre; not only in its perverse view of what constitutes safe behaviour, but also in the more basic aspect of acknowledging nationally-recognised advice and then either ignoring it completely, or doing so selectively where it does not match what appears to be an entirely homegrown view of how people should behave.
And if the ASA is giving its homegrown views more weight than those of the Highway Code, the police and transport authorities, then they may wish to at least reach the level of competence where they don’t refer to the oncoming lane as “the right lane”, don’t talk about the non-existent idea of a “parking lane” (what is that?) and can consistently spell “kerb” – let alone actually understand the dynamics of positioning.
The roads need you
Be clear that their verdict is contrary to safety advice. Be clear that they are inconsistent, hypocritical and unjustified in their ruling here. Be polite and constructive, but request an explanation. Let the ASA know about more enlightened views on safe road use and to point out the weaknesses in their assessment.
It needn’t take long. Fold out the laptop, find a pen, go and knock on their door if you like.
The Horse may be dead, but the carcass stinks.
PS For what it’s worth, this is the letter the ASA will be receiving from me.
Update, 30 January 2014
The ASA has withdrawn its adjudication pending an independent review. If you complained, well done – the withdrawal occurred before I’d even managed to send my letter.