Rutte’s “vase” was an advertisement, but who did it come from?

The recognizability of advertisements is often a point of discussion. For example, brochures on fire safety or the number of burglaries in the neighborhood turn out to be advertisement for smoke detectors and alarm systems. This kind of “informative advertising” is quite common and in the end it is often clear which company is trying to sell you a smoke detector. It is far less common is that something clearly constitutes and advertisement, but it is unclear who is the advertiser. The Advertising Code Committee (RCC) recently considered such a case.

In the AD (a Dutch newspaper) of December 17, 2018, an advertisement was placed in which the Netherlands was described as a vase that we all hold together and that we need to preserve. The message was signed by Mark Rutte (the Dutch Prime Minister) and was accompanied by his photo. At the top of the message it said “ADVERTISEMENT” and at the bottom right corner it said “TONIGHT 17:55 NPO1”. The message from Rutte did not go unnoticed. Several newspapers and news sites wrote about Rutte’s vase, a vase was put on the table in a talk show where Rutte was a guest and the VVD itself made an (extremely cringy) episode of Tussen Kunst en Vaas. A complaint against the advertisement was also submitted to the RCC. The complainant found it unclear by whom the advertisement had been placed and by whom it was paid for. After all, this could be the VVD, but also Mark Rutte as Prime Minister or as a private person. The chairman of the RCC immediately rejected the complaint. One would understand that this was an advertisement from the VVD, partly because of the reference to the airtime for political parties. According to the chairman, the fact that “airtime for political parties” was not expressly mentioned in the advertisement did not detract from this.

The complainant objects to the immediate rejection and the complaint is further dealt with by the full RCC. They take the view that it is plausible that the average reader knows that Mark Rutte is affiliated with the VVD, but find that this does not mean that it is sufficiently clear that the advertisement comes from the VVD. The Advertising Code Committee therefore ruled that the statement was contrary to the Dutch Advertising Code because of a lack of clarity regarding the identity of the advertiser. The decisive factor is that the name “VVD” does not appear anywhere in the advertisement and also that the announcement “TONIGHT 17:55 NPO1” does not make sufficiently clear that the statement comes from the VVD.

Tip (also for politicians): communicate clearly, and do not suffice with ambiguous announcements!

Mathijs Peijnenburg, advertising lawyer

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