A Samsung ad featuring a woman running alone at 2am has avoided a ban by the UK advertising watchdog, despite complaints that it was irresponsible after a spate of late-night attacks on women.
The TV and cinema ad for Samsung products including a smartwatch featured a woman getting up at 2am and going for a run through a large city while wearing wireless earbuds. A voiceover encouraged the idea of running at unusual hours, stating: “Sleep at night. Run faster. Push harder. Follow the herd. Not for me. I run on a different schedule. Mine.”
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received 27 complaints from viewers who felt that in light of a number of recent high-profile cases where women had been attacked in similar circumstances the ad was harmful and irresponsible for encouraging unsafe behaviour.
In April, women’s safety group Reclaim These Streets described the campaign as “beyond unrealistic” in light of the death of Ashling Murphy, a 23-year-old teacher from Ireland who was attacked after she went for a run in January. Her death prompted vigils and led to the #SheWasOnARun movement as women shared stories about being harassed while out running.
Samsung Electronics acknowledged the ad “might have been perceived as insensitive by some viewers” and apologised, saying it would not be broadcast again in the UK.
The South Korean electronics firm asked the ASA to investigate whether the ads were in breach of the UK marketing code.
“The ads were not intended to encourage women to go running at night,” the company said. “They were intended to celebrate individuality and demonstrate the use of Samsung products when exercising, whatever the time of day.”
The company said the unsafe element was the risk of “predatory individuals” – not running alone at night in itself – although it admitted the risks might be higher in a city or at night. An ad ban could lead to “harmful gender stereotyping” if it was interpreted that advertisers could therefore show only men in activities that could present any risk of a predatory individual attacking them, it said.
“[The risk is] also presented in numerous other scenarios shown in advertising, such as individuals in a taxi alone, walking alone at any time of day, getting drinks in a bar [and] going on a first date,” Samsung said.
Clearcast, the body responsible for checking if ads are likely to meet the UK code before they are broadcast, said that if the ad was banned, it “could set a precedent for wider victim blaming, making it difficult to assess future ads”.
The Cinema Advertising Association (CAA) said that if the ad was deemed to be irresponsible for encouraging unsafe practices, “that could be taken akin to the police saying that women should not venture into town centres after dark. That attitude was, understandably, castigated as victim blaming”.
The ASA’s investigation cleared the ads of breaking the UK code, finding that they did not encourage an unsafe practice and were not irresponsible.
“We recognised that some care would need to be taken when going for a run alone in the middle of the night, particularly for women,” the ASA said. “And we considered that people would be likely to realise in doing so, they could be placed in a vulnerable position.”
The woman in the ads was not shown behaving recklessly or obviously placing herself in danger, it ruled.
“The woman shown in the ads appeared alert and aware of her surroundings, and was seen running in well-lit, main streets where other people were present. We considered that running alone at night, of itself, was not likely to result in harm or injury. Whilst we acknowledged that an attack could happen, that was outside of a person’s control and it could also happen in other, everyday scenarios and at all times of the day or night.”