‘Thank truck' for that: ASA finds Green Flag wordplay unlikely to cause offence

A total of 46 complaints were lodged with the ASA, but the regulator dismissed them.

Green Flag: the brand said its ad was intended to parody breakdown frustrations
Green Flag: the brand said its ad was intended to parody breakdown frustrations

A vehicle breakdown ad that used words such as “flipping” and “fudging” in place of expletives has been cleared of any potential wrongdoing by the Advertising Standards Authority.

The watchdog received 46 complaints about the TV ad by Green Flag, which said its TV spot was intended to “parody recognised frustrations from breaking down”.

All complainants argued the ad was offensive because it alluded to swear words, while 16 questioned whether the ad should have been broadcast during the day because children could be watching.

The campaign ran during June and July 2021 and depicted people involved in different breakdown situations. 

An accompanying voiceover said: “When you break down, your first words probably aren’t 'Green Flag', but maybe they should be your second, because if your flipping car fudging goes kaput we'll rescue you anywhere in the country, and you can track our truck all the chuffing way with our app, we'll even halve your AA or RAC renewal quote. 

“So whatever your first words, let's make your last ones [are] ‘thank truck I went with Green Flag’.”

The ad was given the green light for broadcast by Clearcast without a scheduling restriction.

The independent body, which approves TV ads before airing, told the ASA it believed the approach was “acceptable”, noting that a previous Green Flag campaign which used the phrase “Who the fudge are Green Flag?” had not attracted any complaints.

Defending itself against the complaints, Green Flag stressed to the ASA that no explicit language was used – and that words such as “flipping”, “fudging”, “chuffing” and “truck” were all clearly enunciated to ensure they sounded clear and distinct from any expletive.

“They [Green Flag] stated that the tone was intended to be humorous and playful and that the words used were those in common usage and could be used as inoffensive, socially acceptable alternatives to expletives,” the ASA said. 

The ASA did not uphold complaints in either of the two areas of concern.

It concluded that while many viewers would understand that the words in question were alternatives to “fucking”, there were never any actual expletives used in the ad. The word “truck” was relevant to the product and therefore “not out of context or gratuitous”, it added.

“We recognised that some listeners might find the wordplay distasteful but we concluded that the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence," it said.

"Younger children would on the whole be unable to understand the wordplay and while some older children might be able to make the connection they would unlikely be harmed by it due to no expletive being used."

The ASA noted that "no scheduling restriction or advice had been applied to the ad at the time it was cleared by Clearcast", which it considered "appropriate for its content. We concluded the ad had been scheduled appropriately”.

A spokesperson for Green Flag said: "We're pleased the ASA did not uphold any complaints about our advert. All of our adverts go through our own internal review process, extensive consumer research and are signed off by Clearcast to ensure they are suitable for the audiences intended and meet all relevant guidelines."

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