Only a week after the Advertising Standards Authority sharply warned
advertisers against flouting its guidelines, Virgin Interactive
Entertainment is preparing to do just that.
‘Protect your worm from the evil pussy’ declares one of the suggestive
ads for computer game Earthworm Jim 2. Another features the worm in a
suggestive position with a cow, accompanied by the words ‘Introduce your
worm to some livestock’.
The ads go up on Friday (December 8) in underground carriages, lifestyle
magazines, specialist press and sites in men’s toilets in the north-west
Worm that turned into bad taste
The campaign is certain to be controversial. VIE and agency TBWA have
created the ads despite the fact that in April a complaint about an
Earthworm Jim ad was upheld by the ASA.
The poster featured a man in a pink leotard and a bulge in his groin,
alongside the caption ‘Get your worm out for the birds’.
The ASA pulled the ads and asked VIE to avoid sexual humour in future
campaigns, but the company has chosen to ignore this advice. It has to
be asked whether the aim of the campaign is to sell the computer game
via the posters - or to have them banned and garner far more national
coverage through newspapers.
Virgin Interactive Entertainment’s vice-president, marketing, Simon
Jeffery denies this is the case.‘We certainly don’t want to get the ads
pulled, that would be suicide,’ he says.
The campaign also raises the question whether this type of advertising
damages the industry as a whole.
Lord Rodgers, chairman of the ASA, warned last week that statutory
legislation looms closer every time an advertiser deliberately breaks
Few people outside marketing realise that the ASA is a self-regulatory
body. It tries to rule with a light touch, but it is now very worried
that unless the advertising industry puts its own house in order, the
‘Each time a narrow-minded advertiser plays games with the system, it
pushes us further towards statutory regulation,’ says ASA spokesman
But there is the viewpoint that the Earthworm Jim ads and other
infamous campaigns such as Club 18-30, Sky’s OJ Simpson ads, Playboy’s
‘Morgasms’ ad and Benetton’s notorious campaigns are harmless fun.
Proponents of this argument claim it is only the sanctimonious who have
any objections. They add that most people are sophisticated enough to
realise when an ad is using humour.
On the ‘inoffensive’?
Jeffery claims the new Earthworm Jim ads will be seen in the same vein
as they see British seaside postcards.
‘It’s Benny Hill humour rather than offensive,’ he claims. ‘People will
nudge each other and say ‘that’s a bit cheeky’.’
Frequently the problem for the ASA is that by the time ads are pulled,
they have come to the end of their run. This was the case with Saatchi &
Saatchi’s Club 18-30 ads.
However, if it can get warning early enough, the ASA will issue an alert
to media owners asking them to look out for the ads and seek advice
before they run it.
One such example was the RSPCA staged ad showing a dead horse hung up on
a hook. The Times agreed to run the copy, but ran a blank page instead
of showing the photo.
Many in the advertising industry argue there is nothing wrong with this
sort of advertising, but there is the danger that campaigns out of step
with public opinion could alienate rather than attract consumers. For
example, over 800 people complained about the Benetton ad showing a
newborn baby covered in afterbirth. The ASA pulled the ad.
Out of harm’s way?
‘We had letters from mothers saying their children were really disturbed
by the posters. One said her child had been upset for a whole week
before admitting that the problem was the poster opposite the house
showing what they thought was a dead baby covered in blood,’ says
Unless the industry takes note of these complaints and stops trying to
play games, it can say goodbye to the independence it has enjoyed until