Fergus Finlay: Would ASAI be brave enough to ban manipulative banks ads? 

The ASAI bans adverts for tampons but allows banks send out dubious messaging to the public, writes Fergus Finlay
Fergus Finlay: Would ASAI be brave enough to ban manipulative banks ads? 

AIB is a company that over-reached itself so badly, that was managed so irresponsibly, that it almost destroyed Ireland.

You know sometimes you’re listening to the radio, and one of those voices comes on that stops you in your tracks. 

Maybe it’s familiarity, or perhaps just the urgency of the message. 

This was one of those voices, and I was immediately compelled to listen.

A man it was. He was speaking quietly, but with authority and determination. 

It wasn’t immediately clear who his audience was, but it seemed to me (that’s the beauty of radio) that he was addressing a bedraggled and scared group of soldiers. 

Perhaps just back from a dangerous mission, perhaps just about to leave on one.

But he wasn’t telling them what to do. Instead, like a true leader, he was telling them what he was willing to do. He’d stand alongside them. 

He wouldn’t give up —  ever. He’d never let the circumstances get him down. And he’d never let them down.

And then he finished with a simple sentence, the kind of sentence that put the danger his men faced in its proper context. 

“Let’s get back to work,” he said. I was impressed. Inspired even. I’d follow this lad into a gap, I thought.

But that was before the music started, and some woman with a sugary sweet voice started burbling on about how “we’re backing brave”. 

And I realised with a start that I’d been listening to an ad for a company called AIB. Talk about feeling like a complete eeejit.

AIB is a company that over-reached itself so badly, that was managed so irresponsibly, that it almost destroyed Ireland. 

We had to bail it out, and take it into public ownership, at a social and economic cost that was almost indescribable in its magnitude. 

And now it’s spending millions trying to persuade people to borrow money from them rather than from anyone else.

Despite what it tells you, AIB doesn’t exist to “back brave”. 

It would much rather support the comfortable and the strong. It would never want to back you if you’re brave and haven’t a penny to your name. 

It really wants you to be brave and have plenty of collateral in case your bravery doesn’t work out.

Bank of Ireland doesn’t believe in “begin” except as a marketing tool. 
Bank of Ireland doesn’t believe in “begin” except as a marketing tool. 

It’s not alone of course. Bank of Ireland doesn’t believe in “begin” except as a marketing tool. 

KBC isn’t the “bank of you”, it’s the bank of its shareholders, who expect a tidy dividend each quarter.

I’ve written about this before here. 

I honestly believe that the banks and other financial institutions get away with the most dubious possible messaging, that bears no comparison with the way they frequently treat their customers. 

Banks have been found guilty of wrongdoing again and again in relation to their practices and the way they treat people. 

Yet they get away with the sort of rubbish and dishonest advertising I’ve just described.

And in the meantime, an ad for tampons is banned.

You may be familiar with the ad in question. It featured two women (one was described by the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (the ASAI) as a “young girl” although both seemed young to me) discussing the proper use of tampons in pretty direct and what you might call “in your face” language. 

That’s all it was about.

A screenshot from the Tampons & Tea commercial which attracted complaints from some Irish viewers
A screenshot from the Tampons & Tea commercial which attracted complaints from some Irish viewers

Clearly, the ad was aimed at women (sorry for being so obvious), and I’m in no position to judge whether the information imparted was true and necessary. 

I don’t have to be, though, because the ASAI set up an expert committee to consider the ad, presumably in endless detail.

According to themselves, they examined the issue of whether the ad was misleading. 

They decided and reported that it had provided factual information in a manner that was neither explicit nor graphic. 

They examined the possibility that the ad was demeaning to women. They decided and reported that it was neither demeaning, belittling, nor degrading to women.

They went on to consider the possibility that the ad was inappropriately full of sexual innuendo, and they dismissed that compliant too. 

They looked at the issue of whether the ad could be damaging to children, and decided that it wasn’t. 

And again at the end of their report they reaffirmed that the ad, “although presented in a light-hearted manner, was factual and (they) didn’t consider that the content was inappropriate”.

And then they banned it. Why? Because even though they could find nothing wrong with it, 84 people had complained about it, on all of the grounds above. 

One complainant even said their teenage daughters were mortified.

It is an established historical fact that a former (Catholic) Archbishop of Dublin was instrumental in having a provision included in Irish law that would enable the importation of tampons into Ireland to be banned, as possible occasions of sin. 

That was a quaint phrase intended to imply that if elderly male churchmen discovered that the insertion of a tampon could cause pleasure, that would be the end of that.

That was the disgusting way the church thought about women then, of course.

The provision was never used, thank goodness. 

But who’d have thought that seventy years later, a television advert for the same product would be banned because 84 people objected to it?

84 people (out of a population of 4,234,925 according to the last Census) represents widespread outrage. So be it, I suppose.

I’m only 1, a much smaller proportion. But I find myself wondering if the ASAI would be so quick to ban ads from powerful financial institutions because they are crassly manipulative and aimed at luring customers into a warm and supportive embrace.

To be fair, the ASAI did object to one AIB ad — though on rather surprising grounds. 

The ASAI did object to one AIB ad where a man had borrowed money to buy his wife a new car.
The ASAI did object to one AIB ad where a man had borrowed money to buy his wife a new car.

It was an ad where a man had borrowed money (being brave, no doubt) to buy his wife a new car. 

The ever-loving and grateful woman didn’t hit him over the head and demand to know why he had gone to the bank to take out a loan without consulting her.

Instead she told him he was “going to get serious brownie points” (a bit of sexual innuendo there, I’m thinking) and set out to bring her child —  Evan was the boy’s name — for a spin.

The ASAI objected to the ad, again no doubt after rigorous scrutiny and on the basis of 11 complaints, because Evan’s coat was too thick to enable him to be properly strapped into his safety seat in the back of the car.

It took me a while to figure all this out. 

The ASAI is just another example of a concept known as self-regulation —  I’m guessing because the advertising industry would be terrified of independent regulation (a bit like the banks are). 

They do their best I’m sure, and to be fair, they have a code that reads very well.

But slapping a bank on the wrists about a mistake in one of its ads is one thing. 

Telling the banks that the millions they spend on trying to manipulate people into taking out loans is a form of corruption  —that’s probably a step too far for an industry devoted to self-regulation, and for an industry body that’s funded by the industry it regulates. 

Tampons, I suppose, are an easier target.

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