A Samsung ad criticised for featuring a woman running alone at 2am has been cleared by the advertising watchdog following complaints that it was irresponsible for encouraging unsafe behaviour.
The ad for a Samsung smart watch, which showed the woman running through the streets of London in the early hours by herself, attracted 27 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) from viewers who noted the number of recent high profile cases where women had been attacked in similar circumstances.
In April, women’s safety group Reclaim These Streets described the campaign as “tone deaf” in light of the death of Irish teacher Ashling Murphy, who was killed after she went for a run in January.
The 23-year-old’s death in Tullamore, Co Offaly, caused shockwaves and sparked vigils across Ireland and beyond in her memory, as calls were made for a change in attempts to tackle gender-based violence.
It led to the hashtag #shewasonarun as women shared stories about being harassed while out running.
Responding to the complaints to the ASA, Samsung acknowledged that the ads might have been “perceived as insensitive by some viewers, particularly given the recent high-profile attacks on women at night”, and apologised.
The tech giant said the ads would not screen again in the UK but welcomed clarity on whether or not the campaign breached advertising rules.
Samsung said that while the ads were not intended to encourage women to go running at night, “the unsafe element complained about related to the risk of predatory individuals attacking the woman shown in the ads and that running alone at night, of itself, did not present that risk”.
They added that the victims of attacks who had chosen to run alone at night “should never be blamed or judged for deciding to take the risk” and believed that a ruling that advertisers could not show individuals running alone might be perceived in that way.
Ad clearance agency Clearcast said the danger was not the fault of the woman running, and it was concerned that upholding complaints about Samsung’s ad “could set a precedent for wider victim blaming, making it difficult to assess future ads”.
The ASA said: “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, and we considered that people would be likely to realise that by doing so, they could be placed in a vulnerable position.
“We noted that 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, therefore, that the woman was not shown behaving recklessly or obviously placing herself in danger.”
The watchdog added: “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.
“For those reasons, we concluded that the ads did not encourage an unsafe practice and were not irresponsible.”
Samsung said: “We were fully co-operative with the ASA’s investigation into the recent ‘Night Owls’ campaign.
“The campaign was designed with a positive message in mind: to celebrate individuality and freedom to exercise at all hours. It was never our intention to be insensitive to ongoing conversations around women’s safety. As a global company with a diverse workforce, we apologise for how this may have been received.”