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Belgium: Advertising Authority allows for exaggerated advertisements

Whereas online gambling and betting advertisements were formerly unknown in Belgium due to the fact that online gambling and betting was not regulated, such advertisements by “white listed” operators are now becoming increasingly visible in Belgian media, including prime time radio and television commercials. As expected, such commercials may attract scrutiny by the general public or competing operators.

The general public, including consumers, advertisers, commercial agencies and media can file a complaint against Belgian advertisements with the Jury for Ethical Practices on advertisements (“JEP” in short), a self-disciplinary institution. JEP takes into account several criteria to assess whether an advertisement is admissible: advertising must be sincere, decent, truthful and legal and must adhere to a sense of social responsibility.

In the case at hand, a television commercial showed a man using a hair dryer in the bathroom whilst listening to music. The man’s wife is taking a bath just next to him. The device playing the music is on the border of the bath. At a given moment, the man nearly drops his hair dryer in the bath, but is able to catch it. The following moment, the man drops his comb and whist picking it up, he bumps into the music device which falls into the bath. The bathroom becomes dark. A voice over states: “unlucky in love, lucky at cards at circus.be”. The following image shows the man in front of his computer; he seems to have won.

In a second television commercial a farmer goes standing on a stool behind a cow to replace a light bulb in a cowshed. His trousers are too loose and fall to his ankles when replacing the lamp. At that moment his wife enters the cowshed and she sees her husband standing in underpants behind the cow. A voice over states: “unlucky in love, lucky at cards at circus.be”. The following image shows the farmer in the cowshed playing on his laptop; he seems to have won.

According to the plaintiff, the fact that in the first advertisement, the husband immediately goes online to play games of chance after his wife having been electrocuted, is already seriously daring. However, so the plaintiff stated, suggesting zoophile acts in a commercial that is being broadcasted at 2 PM by a public broadcasting company, is completely out of line.

JEP however is of the opinion that both television commercials put on situations that are clearly exaggerated. The authority ruled that given the caricatural nature of the advertisements, their content is not of that kind that it would give offence to the average consumer. As a result, in lack of infringements on legal or self-disciplinary provisions, JEP ruled that it needs not make any remarks on the advertisements in question. As no appeal was brought against this decision of JEP, the file was closed.

In summary, JEP seems to leave margin for advertisers to create advertisements which contain caricatural or exaggerated content, when respecting other applicable legal rules and self-disciplinary codes.

Should you have any further questions regarding to the above, please contact Patrick Van Eecke (Patrick.vaneecke@dlapiper.com) or Antoon Dierick (Antoon.dierick@dlapiper.com).