Daniel Farey-Jones
Jul 21, 2022

Samsung running ad cleared in UK amid ‘victim blaming’ concerns

Showing a woman running alone at night did not encourage ‘unsafe practice’ ASA says, rejecting 27 complaints.

Samsung: told the ASA it would not be running the ad again in the UK
Samsung: told the ASA it would not be running the ad again in the UK

The UK's ad watchdog has delivered a lengthy verdict, including statements from Clearcast and the Cinema Advertising Association, on a Samsung ad that viewers felt to be irresponsible and harmful in showing a woman running alone at night with headphones on.

The ad for Samsung’s fitness watch, created by Ogilvy New York, encountered a backlash from viewers after airing in April and the brand apologised.

The UK Advertising Standards Authority decided to investigate after it received 27 complaints about the identical TV and cinema versions of the ad. The complaints noted the number of recent high-profile cases where women had been attacked in similar circumstances and challenged whether by showing a woman jogging alone at 2am through city streets while wearing headphones, the ad was irresponsible and harmful by encouraging an unsafe practice.

The ASA Council (which consists of five men and eight women) acknowledged the sensitivities and recognised that women particularly would need to take some care in such a scenario. However, since it decided the ad showed the woman was “alert and aware of her surroundings and was seen running in well-lit, main streets where other people were present”, it concluded that she was “not shown behaving recklessly or obviously placing herself in danger”.

It reasoned that an attack could happen in such circumstances, but it would be outside a person’s control and it could also happen in other, everyday scenarios and at all times of the day or night.

The ASA’s decision not to uphold the complaints vindicates the earlier decisions by Clearcast and the Cinema Advertising Association to clear the ad for TV and cinema audiences respectively. Both bodies argued against banning the ad, according to the ASA’s report on the ruling.

Clearcast expressed concern that upholding the complaints “could set a precedent for wider victim blaming, making it difficult to assess future ads”. It stated there should be nothing inherently dangerous in a woman going for a run but, unfortunately, as recent cases had shown, there could be. It added that that danger was not the fault of the woman running.

The Cinema Advertising Association said a ban “could be taken as akin to the police saying that women should not venture into town centres after dark”; in other words, victim blaming.

It added: “If advertising depicting a woman running at night became socially unacceptable, it begged the question of what else might constitute a socially dangerous situation for a woman. Removing women from certain spaces would not stop attacks on women from happening, but could, in their view, create dangerous precedent that women should not be in certain spaces or behave in certain ways for ‘their own safety’.”

Samsung also outlined these arguments in its submission to the watchdog. It told the ASA it would not be running the ad again but would welcome clarity on whether it broke the UK’s advertising code or not.

It also told the ASA that if there were a concern that the use of earbuds shown in the ads reduced safety, the ASA should be aware that the product has a feature that allows the user to amplify ambient sound (so that ambient sound was not blocked out by the earbuds).

Samsung and Ogilvy New York were unavailable to comment on the outcome, but Women’s Running editor Esther Newman told Campaign she disagreed that the ad was not irresponsible.

Newman, who said she had criticised the ad in April but had not complained to the ASA, accepted the ad did not encourage people to be unsafe but said it “undermined the work and campaigning that we, and many other organisations, have done in highlighting the fact that many women – as many as 50% or more – feel unsafe when they go for a run”.

She continued: “I agree with the Cinema Advertising Association that advertising shouldn't suggest that women should behave differently from men; of course we need to be empowering women to run as they wish, as men do.

“Women shouldn't have to alter the times and routes of their runs in order to feel safe but the fact remains that they do. This ad isn't dangerous in itself, but what is dangerous is that it hasn't led to further discussion between Samsung and other brands with organisations like our own about how we can create safe running environments for women.”

Campaign UK

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