SET in a hospital delivery room, Irn-Bru’s latest advertising campaign reinforces the brand’s anarchic sense of humour but has left more than 50 television viewers bubbling with anger.
The Independent Television Commission is investigating complaints from viewers about the commercial to promote Scotland’s ‘other drink’. The advert, which cannot be shown during children’s programming, shows a midwife trying to entice a baby from the womb by waving a can of Irn-Bru between its mother’s legs.
A tiny hand emerges to grab the drink and the foetus can be seen on a monitor swigging it inside the womb. The empty can then flies across the room into a waste basket. Some viewers said the ad, dreamt up by Irn-Bru’s long-standing creators, the Leith Agency, was upsetting to those who had suffered miscarriages or difficult labours.
It is not the first time AG Barr’s flagship orange-coloured fizz has courted controversy. Its 1998 poster campaign featuring a cow saying "When I’m a burger I want to be washed down with Irn-Bru" drew 600 complaints - one of the highest for any advert - after an animal welfare body orchestrated a campaign against it.
However, ads rarely get banned and advertisers can afford to take risks to get noticed. Irn-Bru is competing in a sector dominated by marketing giants Pepsi and Coke.
By maintaining a close-to-the-bone campaign style, Barr’s can almost guarantee free column inches to augment its paid-for media campaign. Phil Adams, the Leith’s managing director, said the agency never actively courted controversy.
"There is no PR angle to it whatsoever," he said. "When you are being outspent by Coke so heavily your media spend has to work that much harder. The last thing we want to do is turn people off."
The ITC can ask for ads to be re-edited to reduce offence. In extreme circumstances it can pull campaigns off air completely. Earlier this year, a commercial for Wrigley’s Xcite breath freshener in which a dog emerges from a man’s mouth - to signify the dog breath it claimed to cure - was taken off by the company before the ITC had time to look into the 800 complaints it attracted.
A spokeswoman for the ITC said: "Because of the financial implications for advertisers and the amount they spend on the campaign, we have to be sure that our decision is appropriate."