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The Kayak commercial that’s too “offensive” and “sickening” to air in the UK

Nov 28, 2012 6:13 am

Skift Take

The ASA’s ruling is ridiculous. It’s a shame the UK has such stringent limits on speech.

— Dennis Schaal

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The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority has banned any future broadcasts of a Kayak commercial that depicts a brain surgeon searching Kayak on a laptop while performing an operation.

The ASA ruled that Kayak can’t run the ad in its present form because it was too upsetting to individuals who have undergone brain surgery, and their families.

After receiving 441 complaints about the advertisement, here’s what the ASA said:

“Although the ad was an unrealistic portrayal of what happened during an operation, we considered that for those viewers who had either personally experienced brain surgery, had family members who had undergone or were about to undergo that type of surgery the theme was likely to provoke a strong reaction.

“The surgeon appeared to be taking advantage of a patient’s immobility, while undergoing a serious major operation, by using him to search for a holiday. We considered the ad’s treatment of a serious and delicate medical procedure could be seen as flippant, and as such, the theme of the ad was likely to be difficult to watch for those viewers who had been affected by brain surgery in some way. Although we understood the ad was intended to be a humorous depiction of someone pressed for time searching for a holiday, we noted a number of complainants had found it distressing and some had found it sickening and deeply offensive because of their personal experience.

“We considered the ad’s flippant treatment of a serious and recognisably real situation was likely to cause distress and serious offence to those viewers who had been affected by the type of operation depicted in the ad. We considered the ad was likely to cause distress without justifiable reason and serious offence to some viewers and therefore concluded it breached the Code.”

Kayak was unsuccessful in its arguing that the ad was an obvious parody, depicting an absurd situation.

Of the ad ban, a Kayak spokesperson says: “We respect the role of the ASA. Overall the response to this advertisement was overwhelmingly positive, with less than 0.001% of people who viewed the ad at least once sending a complaint.”

Here’s a YouTube video of the commercial, which was aired in the UK on Clearcast.

The ASA sided with Kayak on three other issues pertaining to the ad, ruling “that the ad was unlikely to cause widespread offense;” “was unlikely to cause harm to children;” and “was unlikely to damage the reputation of doctors or the medical profession.”

But, when it comes to the sensitivities of people touched by brain surgery, British humor has its limits.

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