Hostelworld ad banned by UK’s Advertising Standards Authority

22 Oct 2015

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Hostelworld ad banned for fears it might encourage tombstoning

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A TV and cinema ad by Irish web company Hostelworld has been banned by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority for allegedly depicting tombstoning, the dangerous practice of jumping into water from cliffs.

Dublin-headquartered Hostelworld.com, created by Ray Nolan’s Web Reservations International, is the world’s top hostel-booking website and was launched in 1999.

The video ad, titled Meet the World, which shows young adults diving into a pool in Mexico, aimed to capture the idyll of travelling around the world and making new friends and experiencing new adventures.

However, it wasn’t the nudity in the video that raised complaints but rather the act of tombstoning, which involves diving into water from a height without knowing the dangers that lurk beneath, such as rocks that can break limbs and cause paralysis and even death.

The ad was filmed at Ik Kil, a popular tourist spot in Mexico where signs state that the depth of the water is more than 50 metres.

The Advertising Standards Authority upheld complaints and said that a number of people had been killed or seriously injured in the UK as a result of tombstoning.

For its part, Hostelworld.com has denied the ad encourages tombstoning and said that the video depicted the young travellers deciding to jump into the water once they knew it was safe to do so.

ASA ruling on Hostelworld ad

In its ruling, the ASA said: “The ASA understood that a number of people had been killed or seriously injured in the UK as a result of ‘tombstoning’, which involved jumping from cliffs or rocks into the sea, or other body of water, without the use of safety equipment or precautions, and considered it was important that ads did not condone or encourage such an unsafe practice.

“We understood that the cenote, or water sinkhole, depicted in the ads was over 50 metres deep and was a tourist attraction at which jumpers were likely to be supervised. However, we considered that most viewers would not be familiar with the location, and noted that there was nothing in the ads themselves which demonstrated the depth of the water, or that the group shown were being supervised. We noted that there did not appear to be anyone present other than those in the group, and considered that viewers would infer that the group were taking part in a spontaneous activity with no supervision.

“We considered that, in the shots of the group jumping together, it was clear that they were jumping from a reasonably low height. Further, there were steps carved into the rock leading to a ledge, which suggested that it was a suitable place from which to jump. We noted that one of the jumpers was concerned about diving, but none of them seemed uncomfortable about jumping in. However, in the scene which showed the main male character jumping from a much higher position, no steps or ledge were apparent. We considered that the length of the fall could have been dangerous, and that there was a risk of injury if the jump was emulated, particularly if it was done in a location which was not specifically designed for such activities.

“We noted that the man seemed apprehensive about jumping, but was encouraged to do so by the rest of the group, who shouted ‘Jump, jump, jump!’ and beckoned with their hands. He subsequently decided to jump, shouting as he fell. Once the man had jumped, the group was heard cheering, before he was hugged by one of them. In addition, he was shown speaking to a woman in the group, with whom he had shared a brief and awkward smile prior to the jump. We considered that the encouragement from the group in response to his apprehension, and their subsequent reaction, suggested that the man’s behaviour was brave and admirable, and that the group’s respect for him had increased as a result. Therefore, we considered that the man was being presented in a more positive light for having done something which might be considered dangerous.”

It added: “The ad must not be broadcast again in its current form. We told Hostelworld.com Ltd to ensure that future ads did not condone or encourage dangerous practices.”

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com