Trevor Laffan: Despite advert ban, it really is better to be safe than sorry...

In his weekly column Trevor Laffan shares his thoughts on the recently banned Tampax advert
Trevor Laffan: Despite advert ban, it really is better to be safe than sorry...

CONTROVERSY: A screenshot from the Tampons & Tea commercial, which attracted complaints from some Irish viewers.

DR Ciara Kelly is a broadcaster on Newstalk radio and every Friday, she does a show that’s live and unscripted, and the topics are determined by the listeners.

Anything can happen. I tuned in last week and I heard her opening the show with a call to the nation; She was asking her listeners to send her tampons and she wanted as many as possible.

That grabbed my attention because I thought the woman was having a crisis. It turned out she was collecting the tampons to bring them to the offices of the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland (ASAI) to protest at a recent decision they took to ban an advertisement on TV. She said she would donate them to charity afterwards.

The ad in question had been running on the TV for a while and featured two women on a pretend talk show, with the pretend host explaining the importance of ensuring that a tampon is inserted correctly to avoid discomfort.

The pretend host demonstrated to the pretend audience how the tampon’s applicator worked and told them: “You gotta get ’em up there, girls.”

The ASAI received 84 complaints about the advert and upheld the claim that it had caused “general offence” so they pulled it.

Dr Kelly was outraged and said thousands of people had contacted her show to rail against the decision and she wanted to send her collection of tampons to ASAI to show that more people were in favour of the advert than were against it. She wanted them to reinstate it.

ASAI Chief Executive Orla Twomey told RTÉ’s Drivetime that in the previous four-and-a-half years there were only seven advertisements that had generated 60 or more complaints, so 84 complaints suggested it caused widespread offence. Most of the complaints were from women.

I saw the ad myself several times but didn’t take much notice of it. That’s understandable because it wasn’t designed to attract my attention, it was intended for the female audience. I didn’t have an opinion about it either way, but it certainly didn’t offend me.

It obviously bothered some though because they went to the trouble of lodging a complaint.

Eighty-four complaints indicated widespread offence, according to the ASAI, but the number of viewers who saw the ad must have run into the hundreds of thousands, if not millions.

I was never great at mathematics — sums to you and me — but even by my calculation, 84 is hardly a significant number.

But what do I know?

The cynic in me says this is just all about clever marketing because the real winners are the manufacturers. Everyone is talking about their product and it got top billing on many talk shows for a few days. Not only here but in the UK as well.

That’s what advertising is all about so, as ads go, this was a humdinger.

There’s another issue though. The ad was also designed to educate women, younger women in particular, on how to use the product properly and safely.

According to the messages Dr Kelly received, it seems there are many girls who are unsure about how to use a tampon correctly and they found the ad very useful.

It’s all irrelevant now anyway because it has been consigned to the cutting room floor, never to be seen again, which just goes to show that issuing safety advice can be a tricky business and can land you in a world of trouble.

Sometimes, doing the opposite can land you in hot water too. Not issuing safety advice cost one company close to €50,000 in damages and legal costs when they failed to show an employee how to polish a wine glass safely.

An article by Personal Injuries Team Ireland reported that a judge in the Circuit Court recently determined that a waitress should have received training in the safe way to polish wine glasses.

He was satisfied on the balance of probability that management was negligent by not providing training and she was awarded €25,000 damages and her legal costs.

A forensic engineer was employed to give evidence in the case and he said the injured party had demonstrated how she had been holding and polishing the glass with a towel when the accident occurred and in his opinion she hadn’t been doing it correctly.

She should have been stopped by her employer and shown how to do it safely.

She had demonstrated, in a photograph provided to the court, how she held the base of the wine glass in one hand while polishing the bowl with her other hand in a twist and turn fashion when the stem had snapped.

Had she been shown how to do it safely she would have been cupping the bowl of the glass in one hand while using the polishing cloth with her other hand.

Having polished the glass in such a manner, it would have been highly unlikely on the day that the stem would have snapped and injured her.

I’m not a trained glass washer but I can still manage to dry one without losing a limb. That’s because it’s not rocket science. It’s obvious the stem is the weak part of the glass and the clue is in the design. It’s skinny, it’s made of glass and it looks fragile, so be careful when handling it. My kids have cleaned wine glasses and they’re still alive too.

All this proves that life can be complicated. On the one hand, instructing young women on the correct use of tampons to prevent causing discomfort can upset people.

On the other hand, you are likely to incur the wrath of the law if you fail to teach someone how to clean a wine glass safely. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

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