South African ruling bans anti-smoking ad

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[johannesburg] British American Tobacco, in a minor victory last week, persuaded South Africa's advertising self-regulatory body to ban a parody of its Benson & Hedges cigarette campaign.

The parody, funded by an anti-smoking lobby called the Tobacco Action Group, was produced by one of the country's hottest creative agencies, Net#work. It mocks Benson & Hedges' "ampersand" effort, which is an extension of an international campaign executed locally by BLGK Bates.

In B&H's print and poster advertising, the brand name is replaced with phrases such as "Twist & shout" and "Taste & enjoy." No product name is mentioned, and the ampersand is considerably enlarged. The creative is designed to circumvent a total cigarette advertising ban due as early as March.

DISEASES LISTED

Tobacco Action Group's response was to start its own campaign last month that mirrors the B&H colors and typeface, but substitutes the copy "Cancer & emphysema." The ad ran in the local edition of Time and in Longevity.

But in a setback for Tobacco Action Group last week, the Advertising Standards Authority ruled against the parody.

"The question to be answered is not whether this statement is correct, but whether the TAG's print advertisement imitates or exploits the advertising good will vested in Benson & Hedges' campaign," the self-regulatory body said in a statement. "The phrases used in the [B&H] campaign constitute the signature of the product. It is not the ampersand alone, but the crafted execution as a whole that constitutes this advertising property. The execution is likely to evoke the Benson & Hedges concept. The take out of the advertisement is that Benson & Hedges causes cancer and emphysema."

COMPARED TO WARNINGS

Mike Schalit, Net#work's creative director, said its ad simply reiterated the warnings that cigarette manufacturers must print on their packs and ads. He claimed that the ruling is an infringement on commercial freedom of speech. "Does this mean truth in advertising is no longer acceptable?" he asked.

However, Ian Shepherd, chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority, said, "This case is not about freedom of speech but about the protection of intellectual property rights, which is an equally important freedom."

All forms of tobacco advertising were banned last year by the Tobacco Products Control Amendment Act, but the law has not yet been implemented. Regulations designed to enact the ban were published in December, and three months have been allowed for interested parties to lodge objections. That period ends in March, when the act is likely to take effect, perhaps with some amendments.

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