A week or so ago I was watching TV when I saw the Halfords acupuncture advertisement. It is designed to be humorous but the moment I saw it I knew that it had missed its mark with me. Instead of laughing I found myself grimacing at how badly it portrayed acupuncturists and sure enough, the next morning I had a cancellation from a new patient who had seen the advert and had their phobia of needles truly reaffirmed by this advertisement.
I won’t add a link to it here but you will know if you’ve seen it; the poor lady on the bed ends up looking by a porcupine as you can see below.
I was so disappointed by the advertisement that I felt compelled to write to Halfords Customer service, and for extra good measure I searched for, and found the name of their Marketing Director. I copied him in on my email as after all, you never know when you write to the people in power.
This is what I sent;
To whom it may concern,
I would like to formally complain about your current television advertisement which ridicules the practice of acupuncture.
This advert shows our profession in a very poor light and I, and many others I have spoken to, see this advertisement as nothing less than disastrous. The advertisement sets out to deliberately mislead the general public by depicting Acupuncture as something that can be practiced by anyone with no formal training and further seeks to compound this sleight by reinforcing the stereotypical view that Acupuncturists stick hundreds of needles into patients. It is deliberately misleading and disparaging.
The immediate impact of your advertisement is that I have had a new patient cancel an appointment with me as she saw the advert and having had her fears reaffirmed by your misleading advertisement has decided against using Acupuncture. Your advertisement therefore has an immediate and real impact on our livelihood as practitioners.
I have raised this complaint to ATCM, BMAS and BAcc who are the governing bodies of Acupuncture, all of whom I am sure will be contacting you to demand the withdrawal of this advertisement.
I would like the advert taken off the TV with immediate effect and a public apology to all the Acupuncture practitioners in the country.
I await your response.
Imagine my surprise to find the following reply in my inbox three days later;
Dear Ms Guy,
I am very sorry you feel this way about the commercial: we do not ever wish to ridicule or offend with our advertising, intentionally or otherwise, so we take criticism and complaints extremely seriously.
The commercial is intended to advertise the ease and convenience with which Halfords can undertake minor repairs and fittings by illustrating that needing to return favours can sometimes backfire and lead to unforeseen, humorous situations.
The character in the film says ‘practising’ i.e. he is a novice, and makes the silly, ‘schoolboy error’ mistake of asking his patient to roll over. Therein lies the humour, and we feel that this falls well within the boundaries of theatrical license.
During pre-production we sought advice from the British Acupuncture Council who put me in touch with a practitioner to advise on the best way of achieving the affect of covering somebody in needles, without requiring us to do it for real. The BAC and the practitioner were at pains to point out this many needles would not happen in a therapy session, but they did not have any issue with the creative idea being disparaging to acupuncture therapy. We sought advice from other accredited, professional practitioners to attended the shoot. Again they did not have any issues – and I asked them directly – with the idea being disparaging or damaging to the image of acupuncture.
The needles used on the shoot were combination of prosthetic, dummy needles, and some real. These were duplicated in post production to give the illusion of many needles.
As I’m sure you are aware, TV advertising is subject to regulation and cannot be aired without approvals, both at the development stage, and once completed, by the UK television clearance authority known as Clearcast. This commercial was scrutinised and approved accordingly. Clearcast are known for their scrupulous standards and would not approve anything they feel to be disparaging or misleading.
I am very sorry to hear that you had a client cancel an appointment: there will always be those of us less comfortable with needles than others. If this commercial tipped the balance for her then it could be argued that there are any number of other images or stimuli that may have done the same.
This commercial generated a great deal of interest and discussion amongst those who worked on it: many of whom commented on the positive experiences they had had with acupuncture therapy. I would go so far as to say that the fact we are able to put acupuncture on air in a commercial demonstrates how accepted and popular it has become in recent years.
I do hope this helps you to understand and view the commercial in spirit in which it was intended,
Frankly I had expected my complaint to disappear into the ether or if it had hit home that I would be sent a stock response thanking me for my email but dismissing me. I was therefore more than a little surprised to find that David had taken the time to email me himself and to go to such great lengths to explain the process behind the advertisement.
It is fair to say that I still don’t like the advertisement, but credit must go to David and the team at Halfords for great customer service. The fact that I”m even posting this and that it will definitely find a place on social media speaks volumes.
So thank you David for taking the time and trouble to contact a dissatisfied customer, even though it has nothing to do with your normal services. And the interesting bit about this; even though you didn’t know it I am a customer. I have quite happily used Halfords for many years but was considering going elsewhere as I felt so strongly about this advertisement. Your reply, whilst not exactly what I had hoped to hear, has reaffirmed my faith and I will be using you again this winter.
On a slightly lighter note, if you are ever in Northwich and want to find out how acupuncture can really help you without looking like a porcupine then please feel free to give me a call! I promise never to ask you to turn over when the needles are in!