Booking Whingers…ASA dismisses complaints about humourous Booking.com advert

Posted: 19 February, 2015 in ASA Advert Censor
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booking com video TV ad and a cinema ad for a travel website, Booking.com: The TV ad featured scenes of various people arriving at their holiday destinations. The voice-over stated, This holiday has been a year in the planning. And here you are standing, nay staring down your dreams. The rest of your holiday hinges on the moment you walk through that door. The door opens, you hold your breath and then you realise. You got it right. You got it booking right. Because it doesn’t get any better than this. It doesn’t get any booking better than this. Look at the view, look at the booking view. This is exactly what you booking needed. Bask in the booking glory at over half a million properties. Planet earth’s number one accommodation site. Booking dot com, booking dot yeah. At the end of the ad on-screen text stated Booking.com , which was replaced by Booking.yeah in time with the voice-over.

The ASA received 2,345 complaints

  1. The majority of complainants, who believed the word booking had been substituted in place of a swear word, challenged whether the ads were offensive;
  2. A number of complainants challenged whether the ads were irresponsible because they were likely to condone or encourage swearing amongst children;
  3. A number of complainants, some of whom reported seeing ad (a) on the CITV channel or during programmes such as a Harry Potter film, and who understood that children were therefore likely to see the ad, challenged whether it was scheduled appropriately.
  4. A number of complainants, some of whom reported seeing ad (b) during screenings of films including Paddington and Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb , and who understood that children were therefore likely to see the ad, challenged whether it was appropriately placed.

ASA Assessment: Complaints not upheld

1. Not upheld

The ASA understood that the repetition of the word booking was intended to raise awareness of the Booking.com brand and had used word play in a comical way to express that message. We noted that the word booking was used throughout the ad in a variety of contexts that each lent themselves to substitution with an expletive, and that many viewers would understand the use of booking as word play on the word fucking . However, we considered that the voice-over artist enunciated the word clearly and that it was sufficiently distinct so as not to be generally confused with the word fucking . We also considered that use of the word booking was not gratuitous or out of context because it was directly relevant to the advertiser’s brand name and the URL they were promoting. Although we acknowledged that the placement of the word was redolent of the use of expletives we noted that the ad did not expressly use any explicit language and therefore concluded that, although some viewers might find the connotation and word play distasteful, it was unlikely that the ad would cause serious or widespread offence.

2. Not upheld

The ASA acknowledged complainants’ concerns that the substitution of the word booking could encourage children to swear. However, we considered booking was sufficiently dissimilar to fucking to be unlikely to be recognised as a reference to a swear word by those who were not already familiar with the word or associated phrases, and therefore considered that children would infer that the term was being used as a reference to the advertiser’s brand name. We also considered that as the ad did not contain an expletive it was unlikely in itself to promote the use of such words and that those children who were old enough to realise the innuendo would be likely to understand that the humour was derived from the substitution rather than the use of an expletive. We understood that a small number of complainants had reported hearing their children swear after seeing the ad, but considered that because the ad did not contain any expletives this behaviour would not arise from the ad itself. Although some complainants were concerned that the ad was encouraging children to say booking in the manner of the ad (and that some had reported this happening) we did not consider that this was tantamount to having encouraged these children to use expletives. We therefore concluded that the ad was unlikely to condone or encourage swearing amongst children.

3. Not upheld

The ASA understood that Clearcast had not applied a scheduling restriction to the ad, and that this was largely based on previous decisions made about other ads that had used similar approaches. We agreed with Clearcast’s assertion that booking was sufficiently removed from fucking that it would not register with younger viewers, and also considered that older children who already knew the expletive implied by the ad would be unlikely to be adversely affected by the content. We therefore concluded that the ad was acceptable without a scheduling restriction.

4. Not upheld

The ASA understood that the CAA had taken the decision to place the ad during PG film screenings both because the type of humour used was present in films of this rating and because the BBFC had given the ad itself a PG rating, and considered that this was an appropriate way of determining whether the ad should be placed in such a screening. Again, we considered that younger viewers would not understand that booking was a substitution of an expletive, and that older children who understood the humour would not be unfavourably affected by the ad. We therefore concluded that the ad had not been irresponsibly placed.

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