Complaints killed the radio ad
(well, almost!)

18th February, 2016

Last month saw a bit of a triumph for advertising. Creativity won over not causing offence and playing it safe – complaints against Radio X’s Bittersweet Symphony ad were not upheld by the ASA. As a northern copywriter, I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear every single person in every one of scores of Yorkshire marketing agencies giving a huge cheer at this decision.

I’m sure you’ve seen the Radio X ad with Chris Moyles pushing a businessman, charity bunny, and ambulance man out the way as he walks down the street to The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony. Whilst I personally don’t like the ad (or Chris Moyles for that matter), I get that it was a great creative idea. It caused controversy. It got his target audience talking. And – just like Chris Moyles – it provoked opinion.


Being so passionate about all advertising, whether it’s on the box, direct mail, or full-blown integrated marketing campaigns, these little victories stick in my mind. Last year I had a bit of a rant to my friends, colleagues – anyone who would listen – about how the spot was a great example of TV advertising. You remember it…

“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.yeah.”

As a copywriter, my job is all about bringing adjectives to life, and this ad does it – brilliantly. Even if 2,345 people heard ‘booking’ as an expletive, not an adjective, for me this ad maximises brand recognition and engagement, and is also a great example of trusting your customer knowledge to allow you to be brave, funny and stand out in a jam-packed market. After all, if the ad struck such a strong chord with 2,345 people that they had to complain, just think how many people saw it, laughed at it and remembered it!

On that note, the ASA banning an ad is not a numbers game. If you’ve ever asked yourself how many people need to complain to get an ad banned, the answer is one; one, solitary, Mr Angry from Sudbury and the ASA will launch an investigation which could lead to a big pull of the plug (pun intended, sorry).

Whilst I would never want to cause widespread offence, advertising needs to retain its free speech. It’s the innovative – and sometimes shocking – turns of phrase or images that stop advertising being wallpaper and make it something to take notice of in our busy lives.


Back in 2014 I remember almost weeping when I heard that Red Bull were being sued for their strapline ‘Gives you wiiings’! I mean seriously, how sad is it that the world has become so literal, and that creativity has to follow. How about keeping the strapline and giving away a set of fairy wings with every can!

For marketers, and for the marketing agencies they work with, I think the only way to know how far your brand can push creativity, is by knowing your audience. If your customers are not offended or misled by the advertising, then why not give those creative boundaries a push!

If one or two do feel the need to complain, then you’ve dipped your toe in the waters of recognition and begun to make some marketing waves.


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