Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Women's Refuge ad faulted

It’s pleasing to see that the Advertising Standards Complaints Board has upheld a complaint against a Women’s Refuge advertisement referred to in this blog several months ago.

The visually striking ad, by Saatchi and Saatchi, appeared on the back page of Your Weekend, the colour magazine that came with the Saturday edition of The Dominion Post, The Press and The Waikato Times. The complaint concerned the caption, which read: “1 in 3 women need your help. Because living in fear, isn’t living.”

What caught my attention, as I said in my blog, was the suggestion that one in three New Zealand women live in fear, which struck me as an improbable figure. When I emailed Women’s Refuge asking for the source of this claim, I got a reply citing a survey in which between 33 and 39 percent of women questioned in Auckland and the Waikato were found to have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from their partners in their lifetime (my italics).

I objected to the ad because it implied that one in three New Zealand women live in constant fear of assault from a male. But that’s not what the survey said. It stated that one in three women had at some time in their lives experienced an act of violence – a disturbing statistic, but a very different thing from saying that at any given time, one in three women are in a state of fear.

Someone named K Maclaren (presumably from the Waikato, because the complaint referred to the Waikato Times) also took exception to the ad and complained to the ASCB, saying there was no credible evidence for the "live in fear" claim. A majority of the board concurred, saying they were concerned that “a study restricted to women living in Waikato and Auckland was used as the basis for national statistics.

More to the point, the board continued: "Similarly the finding, which was based on an episode of physical or sexual violence during ‘a lifetime’, became the basis for “fear”, in the current sense. In the majority view, it was inappropriate to extrapolate the claim “1 in 3 women … are living in fear…” from this research. [The majority] also made the point that a strong claim specifically used to encourage donations from the public, in turn, required robust research to substantiate it. In the majority view, this had not been provided. Therefore it concluded that in this context, the claim was exaggerated and in breach Rule 2 [of the advertising code]. The majority was also of the view that as the advertiser had failed to adequately substantiate the claim, the advertisement could not be said to have been prepared with the requisite level of social responsibility to consumers and society, therefore it also breached Basic Principle 4 of the [advertising] Code.”

The board - correctly, in my opinion - rejected an additional complaint that the ad discriminated against men (which possibly tells you something about the complainant). But what I find a bit worrying is that a minority of board members thought the ad was fair enough. According to the decision, they felt that “in the context of advocacy advertising, the advertiser had the right to use provocative, robust opinion and given the nature and context of the claim, the right to extrapolate the statistics from the research. Therefore in the minority view, the advertisement was not in breach of any aspect of the Advertising Codes of Practice.”

Frankly I can’t see how anyone could come to any conclusion other than that the ad was dishonest and misleading. As I said in my original post, Women’s Refuge does admirable work but does itself no favours by soliciting public support using dodgy figures.

1 comment:

The probligo said...

I know that Mr D'Israeli had it right with his "Lies, damned lies, and statistics".

The saddest thing is not that one lone advertiser has been pulled up by the ASCB for the abuse of statistics, but that the greatest abuser of statistics in this country is outside of any external review or control.

I have reached the point where any statistic quoted by an MP, Minister, or Ordinary is immediately under suspicion. Even worse is the propensity of (successive, I have to say) governments to select and misquote statistics with no regard for margin of error, sample method, or the nature of the original survey question.

Equally obvious is the fact that Parliament is not alone in the practice, as your campaign against the neo-wowsers should also highlight.

Worst by far is the propensity for Joe-in-the-street to accept bad statistics without question.