Vodafone Martin Freeman ad cleared by ASA despite 'distress' complaints

A Vodafone ad featuring Martin Freeman in a crime caper storyline has been given the green light by the Advertising Standards Authority despite 17 complaints, including from rival network EE.

The ad, created by Ogilvy & Mather, begins with a pair of criminals in a car, turning into an underground car park to escape the police. They come across Freeman’s character packing his shopping into the boot of the car, and a woman doing the same.

When the woman signals to Freeman that she plans to call the police, he is sceptical she’ll be able to get a signal. But she’s on Vodafone and gets four bars, meaning the coppers swiftly arrive to nick the baddies.

The complaints were on two grounds: that the ad implied only Vodafone customers could make emergency calls in areas with no signal; and that because of this, the ad was likely to cause harm and distress. EE' had complained on both grounds too.

But the ASA accepted Vodafone’s argument that the spot was not intended to be a serious or realistic portrayal of an emergency situation, and that the claims "outstanding indoor coverage" and "four bars" did not compare the brand to rivals.

The watchdog also said the ad was unlikely to discourage consumers from attempting to make an emergency call in a situation where they had no signal but it was necessary to do so.

The ASA determined that the ad did not breach the BCAP Code rules on misleading advertising, responsible advertising, or harm and offence.