Arif Durrani: head of media at Campaign / editor of MediaWeek
Arif Durrani: head of media at Campaign / editor of MediaWeek
A view from Arif Durrani

Bus ads don't need naked women to get noticed

Another week, another misguided attempt to use a naked woman and inappropriate innuendo to sell something. This time, it's bus fares.

We can only imagine the meetings that took place at the private-bus company New Adventure Travel Group in which the decision-makers agreed to promote its fleet with a picture of a topless woman holding a sign stating: "Ride me all day for £3."

The company has since apologised "unreservedly" what was intended to be a "tongue-in-cheek" campaign to attract the younger generation. All ads – some of which featured a topless man – have now been removed from the buses.

No doubt all the professionals in adland are shaking their heads in disbelief at such naïvety and ineptitude – these guys really should stick to ferrying people around.

But it was only five years ago when a campaign run on behalf of the outdoor industry took over the side of buses with the uplifting message: "Career women make bad mothers." This was not thought up in the back room of some Welsh bus company but the brainchild of the veteran ad leader Garry Lace, then at Beta.

'Social media has the ability to turn employees, shareholders and consumers into brand advocates'

Both campaigns were swiftly condemned for being ill-conceived, crass and stupid. But they did also underline that bus advertising still draws attention.

Sticking messages on the side of buses feels like a throwback in the digital age but – guess what – having a poster on a big vehicle driving in and out of town centres all day gets you noticed. Last year, about £100 million worth of advertising was spent on buses.

Another salient point highlighted by this week’s furore is just how quickly companies can be held to account in the era of social media. Both bus campaigns were withdrawn within hours following the voracity of the backlash. Twitter tracked more than 5,000 Tweets featuring "Ride Me All Day" within 48 hours of the campaign breaking.

"Given the volume of negativity received, we have decided to remove the pictures from the back of the buses within the next 24 hours," a NAT Group spokesman confirmed.

The decision follows the outcry over those now-infamous Protein World ads in the Underground.

There can be little doubt that the rise of social media and the mass penetration of smartphones have empowered people like never before.

Social media has the ability to turn employees, shareholders and consumers into passionate advocates for, or vocal critics of, brands. The speed at which people can now be mobilised and reputations damaged has changed the dynamics. It all backs up Tom Knox’s new agenda as the president of the IPA to make advertising a "force for social good".

Read me all day for £3.70.