by Thinus Ferreira
Following complaints from parents that Zezorg is scaring their children, South Africa's Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB) has ruled that Chicken Licken's alien advertising on television isn't harmful to children and that advertisers can't be banned "from creating light-hearted commercials for fear that some children might misinterpret the message".
The ARB received complaints from the public over Chicken Licken's "Hotwings Party" meal from Joe Public, in which a family meets up with an alien known as Zezorg who looks like Stitch from Disney's Lilo & Stitch animation film, who teleports the family members out of their home so he can feed on the chicken in a first commercial.
In a follow-up commercial the family finds themselves on a deserted road with Zezorg who appears, grunts "sorry", after which everyone is teleported home.
One complainant objected to the "horrific animal" in the Chicken Licken' TV commercial that was shown across various TV channels like SABC1, SABC2 and e.tv, noting that it scares the entire family, and in particular their little girl, who has started having nightmares as a result of seeing these commercials.
Another complainant referred to the "scary, sensitive and rather disturbing creature which doesn't even exist on this planet".
She noted that the Chicken Licken' TV commercials pop up without warning, triggering her anger and leaving her disturbed for hours, while causing her son to have nightmares.
Joe Public told the ARB that the TV adverts centre around "a fictional alien-like character, taken in by a family as somewhat of a pet or new addition to the family after his unannounced arrival into the family’s home in the middle of the night. Though nervously curious at first, the alien’s arrival is met with smiles and laughter by the family, and he soon becomes part of their daily lives".
Zezorg is "overcome by his cravings and teleports the entire family away so that he can enjoy the meal alone. He does, however, end up apologising and teleporting the family back home."
Joe Public said that the Chicken Licken' adverts contain "no inappropriate scenes, and it is clear that the human family was never in any real danger even during the creature’s momentary lapse in judgement, which was caused by his overwhelming urge to enjoy the meal".
"The commercial contains no violence or dangerous situations, and no distasteful images are used. While young children would, admittedly, have a higher level of credulity, there is nothing in the commercial that would likely cause children emotional harm, and parents would be able to explain the premise and overall message with ease."
The ARB in its ruling noted that "that there is a possibility that the complainants may have only seen the first commercial (which does not feature the family reunion), and possibly changed the channel or switched off the television once they felt afraid or triggered".
"As such, there is a possibility that one or both complainants are oblivious of the conclusion of this story. Both complainants took issue with the fact that the commercials scare their children, and that the alien creature is perceived as disturbing and scary by them as adults."
"The Directorate is not convinced that adults are likely to perceive the alien character as threatening, offensive or harmful. Even if one were unaware of the reunion portion of this story, the plotline and execution of the first commercial is of such a nature that reasonable viewers are likely to understand the sequence of events."
"The creature arrives unexpectedly, and the family is clearly unsure of its origins and purpose. However, after first contact is established, it is accepted as part of the family."
"From this, it is obvious that the creature is an alien of some sort (who coincidentally looks like Stitch from the popular Walt Disney movie Lilo & Stitch) that has found his new home with this family. Objectively viewed, the alien is cute rather than frightening, and clearly friendly."
The ARB ruled said that "The allegation here is that the commercials would likely scare young children and in so doing cause emotional harm. Both complainants submit that their young children developed nightmares after seeing this alien creature".
"Again, the Directorate acknowledges the possibility that children might not have been exposed to the second and third commercial, and may possibly not be aware that the alien apologises for his actions and is forgiven by the family which arguably mitigates any concerns that young children may have."
The ARB said that "the question remains whether this creature and his behaviour is, in the opinion of the Directorate, likely to cause harm to children in a manner that the Code seeks to prevent."
"During the first commercial, the mood shifts from initial trepidation to harmony. The family is shown laughing at his antics and being pleasantly surprised by his supernatural abilities."
"It is true that some children have particular sensitivities to different things, which may not bother another child. These fears are wide-ranging. However, to prohibit advertisers from creating light-hearted commercials for fear that some children might misinterpret the message would be unreasonable."
"The alien creature is not depicted as an intimidating, scary monster, but rather as a kind-hearted creature. He has round teeth (as opposed to sharp fangs) and shows no claws or other features that would reasonably be expected to scare young children."
"He is constantly making strange sounds and even helps the son brush his teeth and records a dancing video with the daughter. These are not menacing or frightening actions that could potentially scare children."
"While true that he loses composure and teleports the family away so that he can eat all the chicken, this would, at worst, position him as somewhat of a villain who stole the family’s meal. The scene, especially if viewed with the “apology” scene, is not unreasonably frightening for a child."
"The Directorate is therefore not convinced that the commercials would likely cause children harm," the ARB ruled.