NRMA Insurance’s ‘First Saturday’ ad pulled for distressingly realistic scenes of bushfires and volunteer firefighters

NRMA Insurance’s ‘First Saturday’ campaign film has been discontinued after the advertising self-regulator, Ad Standards, received complaints from viewers that the footage of firefighters heading into a bushfire was distressing.

The campaign, from CHE Proximity, uses re-enacted footage of a real RFS volunteer firefighters inside the firetruck, in an effort to remind Australians of the national tension and devastation of created by bushfire crises throughout recent history. More broadly the campaign gives Australians a task to perform on the first Saturday of every month in order to make their homes more bushfire-ready.

However, the scenes inside the truck were the target of the complaints. One came from a RFS volunteer who wrote that they volunteered during last summer’s bushfire crisis and lost their home. The complainant wrote that the campaign was “very disturbing and in poor taste”. Another complainant, a parent of an RFS volunteer, labelled the ad “extremely disturbing and upsetting”.

Ad Standards ruled the ad had breached the Code of Ethics, based on section 2.3, which covers the portrayal of violence.

In its defence NRMA Insurance said that the ad was created in consultation with the RFS, the Australian Red Cross and the SES, to make the re-enactment as realistic and safe as possible, and to ensure the ad was appropriate for television.

NRMA said that the ad does not show any of the firefighters being injured or harmed, and that “there is no suggestion that the firefighters are taking any actions that would be considered inappropriate or unreasonably unsafe in the context of their role”.

However, the Ad Standards community panel determined that ‘violence’ refers to more than just the depiction of harm being caused to a person, including the suggestion of menace and the “real or potential harm caused by accidents or natural disaster”.

The audio and visual effects in the ad were agreed to evoke feelings of fear and foreboding in the audience. A minority of the panel said the use of menacing images was justified based on NRMA’s call to action and the reminder of the loss of property and life caused by the bushfires. However, a majority of the panel “considered that the link between the message of the advertisement and the footage was insufficiently clear.”

The realism of the scenes and the link to the loss of firefighters’ lives was determined by the majority of the panel to be distressing to many viewers, and not justified in order to covey a message about home safety. Therefore, the complaints were upheld.

NRMA Insurance disagreed with the ruling, however modified the ad to include the disclaimer “The following was filmed under controlled circumstances and is a re-enactment using real NSW RFS volunteers”, and discontinued it on television by 30 September.

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