Apple finds itself on both sides in battle of the bans

Apple has come out on the short end of an argument with British regulators over the definition of the word “all,” and as a result, the U.K. run of a particular iPhone TV commercial is all done. At issue was an ad showing a user’s hand dancing across the touchscreen, pulling up Web sites in rapid fashion, as the voiceover explained, “You never know which part of the Internet you’ll need … which is why all the parts of the Internet are on the iPhone.” Based on complaints, the Advertising Standards Authority ruled that the claim was misleading because the iPhone did not support Flash or Java, both widely used across the Web.

“Apple,” the ASA said, “believed that it was clear that the reference in the ad to ‘all parts of the Internet’ referred to Internet site availability, not to every aspect of functionality available on every Web site. They said the decision not to enable some proprietary software would not affect the ability of the iPhone user to access any part of the Internet, only their ability to access particular content that used third party technology.” The ASA was unpersuaded. “We noted Apple’s argument that the ad was about site availability rather than technical detail, but considered that the claims … implied users would be able to access all Web sites and see them in their entirety. We considered that, because the ad had not explained the limitations, viewers were likely to expect to be able to see all the content on a Web site normally accessible through a PC rather than just having the ability to reach the Web site. We concluded that the ad gave a misleading impression of the Internet capabilities of the iPhone.”

And that seems to be borne out by the complaints — both of them. Yep, the ASA ordered the commercial pulled on the basis of two (2) complaints. As Andy Beal writes at Marketing Pilgrim, “I’m not sure what’s more incredible. That the ASA thought the ad was misleading — even my Firefox browser can’t access all of the Internet — or, that it took just two complaints to see the ad banned. Don’t like the TV ad, your competitor is running in the U.K.? Send in a complaint, and have your grandmother do the same — you’ll never have to worry about it again!”

Meantime, on this side of the Atlantic, it’s Apple doing the banning, trekking into tricky territory by rejecting an entire iPhone application for the App Store based on one piece of content associated with it. The application is Comic Reader, and it’s pretty slick, letting the viewer slide from panel to panel or use a finger stroke to peel back the layers of the artwork. The problem for Apple was that the app came along with a comic called “Murderdrome,” depicting futuristic gladiatorial combat in the common, over-the-top violent style of graphic novels. That, Apple decided, was just not appropriate for its audience, putting itself in the potentially uncomfortable position of unelected arbiter of good taste and leaving itself open to charges of inconsistency based on the many examples of violent content it already sells.

Dan Frommer at Silicon Alley Insider suggests an appeals process may be needed. “Apple has been in the content business since it launched the iTunes store in 2003, when it began selling music via iTunes,” he writes. “But the music and movies it sells and rents are pretty much pre-vetted by middlemen before they get to Apple. The App store is a different story: Apple employees are now assessing dozens of applications a day, which means they’re going to be asked to constantly make subjective decisions about whether something is ‘too violent’ or ‘too sexual’ for iPhone-toting youth or anyone else.” As for the folks behind the Comic Reader, they’re lobbying Apple to implement a ratings system that would leave the choices up the user, and they’re working on content that might be tame enough for Apple, like “The Masked Marshal” in “Mah Pony Must Be Punished!”. Then again, it may depend on just how severe that punishment is.


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  • RedRat

    Apple has learned a lesson taught in Logic 101, “all” is a pretty dangerous term to use. “All” does imply everything. I wish that we could use the Brit’s logic here in the colonies, it might just reduce some very lousy advertising and some very nasty ads. Such standards, applied to home loans and equity loans, just might have alleviated some of the current sorrow.

  • Bazza

    It’s about time advertisers were taught to use correct terminology. Simply because others have gotten away with it (Firefox? there are better examples, like IE) is no reason to let others do so.