These reports are case summaries of complaints which appeared to raise issues of substance in relation to the interpretation of the ITC Advertising Standards Code. Summary statistics of non-substantive complaints can be found in the full reports which are obtainable from the ITC.
Virgin Mobile - Hospital
Complaint from: 49 viewers
An advertisement for Virgin Mobile Text Messaging took the theme of "finding work for idle thumbs". It showed various patients in an imaginary "Sparta Hospital for the Bored". They were dressed in pyjamas and engaged in various unproductive activities designed to kill time, such as spraying water from a drinking fountain, repeatedly switching a light switch on and off, and stapling part of a nurse's uniform to a table.
The complainants objected to what they saw as a mocking portrayal of people with mental health problems or learning disabilities and considered that it sent out a false message about mental health issues. Three of the complaints were from people with family members who had mental health problems or learning disabilities. Two further complaints were from a mental health worker and the manager of a mental health hospital. They considered the portrayal outdated, likely to promote the view that those with mental health issues were dangerous, and likely to discourage those needing help from seeking it.
The BACC explained that it had worked closely with the advertising agency to ensure that the advertisement did not appear to portray people with mental health problems or learning disabilities. This had resulted in the deletion of some scenes, brighter music and the title "Sparta Hospital for the Bored" in an attempt to help counteract this impression.
The advertising agency stated that it had not intended to cause offence and had sought to portray a general hospital environment rather than a psychiatric hospital or any other kind of institution. It had taken steps to distance it from a typical, modern-day hospital in the UK and intended that viewers would laugh along with rather than at the bored patients and their acts of rebellion.
Virgin Mobile had also commissioned pre-launch research groups to explore reactions to the campaign amongst people who worked in mental health care. These groups did not interpret the advertisement as denigrating mental health problems.
Although two complaints were from mental health professionals, the ITC judged that it was the friends and families of mental health patients and the general population who - without the benefit of professional training and awareness - were more likely to see the advertisement as a negative portrayal of mental health issues.
The BACC acknowledged that the receipt of the complaints suggested that the measures taken had not been sufficient to prevent the advertisement being associated with mental health issues or learning disabilities. The ITC agreed. It considered that the cumulative effect of the scenes in the 60 and 30-second versions of the advertisement gave an impression of people with mental health issues or learning disabilities and required that these versions be withdrawn. It did not, however, consider that the shorter, 10-second versions of the advertisement containing single scenes had this effect and agreed that they could continue to be shown.
Complaints upheld. Breach of ITC Code Rule 6.6.