Wicked Campers is showing up the Ad Standards Board

Following more rulings against Wicked Campers by the Ad Standards Board last week Alex Hayes asks whether the company will give up their shock tactic advertising any time soon.

Wicked Campers journalists and politiciansI’m thinking of writing a complaint to the Ad Standards Board about Wicked Campers.

I’ve just been on a week’s holiday in a camper van in North Queensland, and I saw one of their vans there which had the slogan “How wars start: Politicians lie to journalists, then believe what’s read in newspapers” on the back.

Of course I’m joking. But it’s obviously pretty fashionable to have a crack at the Brisbane-based camper hire company, which has had 31 complaints against slogans on its vans upheld in the last six years, seven in the last four weeks alone. For the record it has had 22 complaints dismissed in the same time span.

Its not just journalists and politicians they don’t mind offending. There’s fat girls, aboriginal people, breast feeding mothers and gay people to name but a few. It does like to lionise Chuck Norris though.

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 11.46.42 amWhenever we run these stories we get the odd commenter saying we’re playing into Wicked’s hands by reporting the fact they’ve been pulled up again by giving them more publicity.

I’m not so sure this is true.

wicked campers shaggy carSure the idea is to get attention for the vans, and the big cartoon pictures of Shaggy from Scooby Doo smoking a reefer or the one I had the pleasure of camping next to one night, a particularly disturbing Bad Acid trip with Mickey Mouse’s face peeling away, do that in spades.

But a quick search on Wicked Campers on Google will return a heap of articles from Mumbrella and a few other sources like the Courier Mail and Sydney Morning Herald, as well as some less than flattering reviews on things like TripAdvisor. Not necessarily great PR for a brand which is aiming at naive, young and more often than not foreign travellers looking to bomb around Australia as cheaply as possible.

Jucy campers choopa people sloganWicked isn’t alone in emblazoning its vans with all sorts of branding.  Jucy for one use phrases like “This Choppa camper is perfect for two, great for three and a party for four” on their vans now. Hardly scandalous, but eye catching nonetheless. And why not, they’re free billboards driving around towns, cities and rainforests all across the country.

But in the crowded market Wicked stands apart. This is bold advertising of the type we are constantly being told there is not enough of. Here we have a company willing to take risks, to be talked about, and to draw attention to itself in some pretty outlandish ways. And at the same time sell a promise of a hedonistic lifestyle their target market are after in a language and style they can identify with.

You only need to have a look at the Wicked Campers Facebook page, which last year ran into controversy after offering discounts to heavy weed smokers. It obviously didn’t deter them, they’re currently offering discounts in May for anyone who tells them they’re “hung like a donkey”, male or female.

Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 11.52.12 AM

The problem Wicked have is they too often seem to cross the line of what’s acceptable in a relatively sealed off online environment like Facebook, and what people want their kids seeing as they drive along the road. You can click away form  a Facebook page. But you don’t have that luxury with outdoor ads when you’re stuck in a traffic jam behind one of these vans.

Even people renting their vans aren’t necessarily fans of the decor. One traveller I asked about it said he had been let down by another rental company and Wicked was the only other one he could afford for his trip. Another pair said they had chosen purely on price, understandable for cash-strapped travellers.

Despite the public approbation, led it seems by Christian groups, and constant wraps on the knuckles from the ASB Wicked don’t look like they will be changing tactics anytime soon. They don’t even bother responding to the ASB rulings any more, and don’t modify or change ads that have been ruled against.

And herein lies the problem, the ASB is essentially toothless against this kind of thing, where an advertiser is unwilling to listen to what they have to say. This exposes a massive chink in their armoury, and it is unclear whether proposed stringent new laws on outdoor advertising in Queensland will take these kind of ads into account. The problem for the ASB here is Wicked is both the advertiser and media owner, so they have no levers to pull to get Wicked into line.

After all, Wicked doesn’t have to appeal to the mass market, and especially not the more prudishly minded amongst them, it just has to keep drawing attention and custom from its target demographic. So while it is having success with these tactics, what is there to actually stop them?

Alex Hayes is editor of Mumbrella.


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