Why a Kulula ad angered a listener

Relieving yourself. Taking a leak. Making the bladder gladder. In the privacy of your own bathroom‚ it’s the familiar sounds of a zip‚ a splash and a sigh.

But would it bother you if these sounds were a part of your morning radio programme?

It bothered Gillian Laurie enough that she complained to the advertising watchdog about low-cost airline Kulula’s latest radio slot. In it‚ a man answers nature’s call in a house plant– something Laurie found “in bad taste and appalling and just down right unpleasant.” More than that‚ she argued it was an idea “truly out of the bottom of the gutter”.

The Advertising Standards Authority disagreed‚ finding more fun than folly on Kulula’s part.

The ad‚ for Kulula’s “Don’t be a travel hater” campaign‚ follows the fortunes of a fern being cared for while its owner is on holiday. In it‚ the character says: “Hello‚ Peter’s precious evergreen indoor fern. You must be missing him terribly considering he’s in Cape Town again.

“I’m so fortunate to be able to look after you every weekend when he is away. What’s that? You’re little thirsty? You want something to drink? Well‚ I don’t see why not. If Peter is enjoying exotic cocktails so should you.”

The sound of a zip is heard. “Yeah! yeah of course you should. Drink up little fern.” The sound of urinating is heard. “Drink up.”

A voiceover follows: “Don’t be a travel hater”‚ followed by a promotion for the airline.

The advertising code specifies that ads should contain nothing likely to cause serious‚ widespread or sectoral offence.

“However‚ the reality is that urinating is an unavoidable reality of human life‚” said the ASA. “The sound of unzipping trousers and urinating are not per se offensive. One must look at the context.”

As such‚ the advertisement was not a danger to decency. “This commercial must be considered in the context of the campaign – which is about people doing potentially offensive things because they are ‘travel haters’ who resent their colleagues and friends going on holiday‚” the authority said.

“The commercial tells them that with Kulula.com‚ they too can go on holiday. In other words‚ the humour of the situation depends on the ‘travel haters’ doing something that may upset another person — in this case‚ urinating in his pot plant. But it also points out that this is not a good thing to do‚ this is what ‘travel haters’ do.”

The complaint was dismissed.


– Hannah Green is on a SIT Study Abroad programme with Round Earth Media.


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