October each year is celebrated as Black History Month (BHM). It was first officially celebrated in the UK in 1987, but it is particularly important this given the events of 2020 and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter campaign following the murder of George Floyd (and others, sadly). BHM serves as an opportunity to celebrate and reflect on the contribution of black people to our society, not only in the UK, but globally.
The ASA has issued some reminder guidance to those seeking to represent or incorporate issues of race in their ads. On the whole, race and diversity is highlighted in a positive way by advertisers but there are occasionally those that miss the mark. The CAP code is very clear in that it ads should "avoid causing serious or widespread offence on the grounds of race", further stating that advertisers should "consider public sensitivities before using potentially offensive material". I would have thought that most advertisers would seek to avoid using any "potentially offensive material" in their ads. Not only does this fall foul of the ASA regulations, but is likely to seriously alienate your audience by being so out of touch.
So it will be interesting to see what the ASA makes of any complaints about an ad posted on the Facebook page for PureGym Luton for a fitness routine called "12YearsOfSlave". The post was made by a personal trainer, Matt Simpson, who is black himself and it is clear from subsequent Instagram posts that his intention was to celebrate BHM, not to cause offence. His post states "Entitled '12YearsOfSlave' (after the epic movie) this is our workout of the month designed by @mattsimpt to celebrate black history month. Slavery was hard and so is this. The twist to this is 1 rep of your 1st exercise, 2 of the second but before you move on to the 3rd exercise which is also 3 reps you must start at the beginning to move on. AND that's how the entire workout goes."
Presumably Mr Simpson must have seen the movie "12 Years a slave", which he correctly describes as an epic, but which is truly harrowing for any audience of any and all races. Unsurprisingly, a social media storm has ensued, and PureGym have issued a statement saying "'PureGym apologises unreservedly for a post made today by our gym in Luton. This post is wholly unacceptable, was not approved or endorsed by the company and was removed as soon as it was brought to our attention."
So, use this BHM to celebrate the history of the black community and throw a spotlight on their achievements. Just make sure you take care that you think about how viewers are likely to interpret the ad and and depictions of black people or ethnic origins of characters.
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