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Twitter users who have seen posters call 'fake' - but is Emirates just trying to avoid offending ad watchdog?...

An advertising campaign in Australia for the UAE-based airline Emirates has attracted derision on Twitter – because it depicts an Amsterdam cyclist who according to people who have seen the poster in person has clearly had a helmet placed on her head with the help of Photoshop or similar software.

Twitter user @BicycleAdagio posted a picture of the advert to Twitter, with other users of the social network saying that they had also seen it in Perth and Brisbane.

The Dutch capital, of course, has among the highest modal shares of cycling in the world and among people who use bikes as a means of transport, those who wear helmets are in a tiny minority.

In Australia, cyclists are required by law to wear a helmet, with those who go bare-headed in New South Wales facing a fine of A$319 (£166).

The soft focus of the image posted to Twitter means it’s hard to determine for sure whether or not the image has been manipulated, but user @geoff_tewierik wrote: “Saw one of these joke ads from @emirates in Brisbane the other day too. Clueless marketing department.”

Another user, @cyclingtiger, said: “Sadly I suspect that this is because it's cheaper to photoshop than to put up with angry complaints about helmetless riding.”

Assuming the image was indeed altered, that may have been done so as not to fall foul of the country’s advertising watchdog.  

Last year, Australia’s Advertising Standards Board upheld a complaint against a television advert for a health club which included footage of two women riding a tandem without helmets.

The advertiser, Fernwood Fitness Centre, argued amongst other things that the women were riding on private property and were not therefore required by law to wear helmets.

In considering whether the advertisement did indeed breach health and safety guidelines, the watchdog said:

The Board noted that community standards are very clear on the issue of health and safety whilst riding a bicycle and considered that a depiction of an adult riding a bicycle without a helmet is a depiction which is in breach of these community standards.

In the current advertisement the Board noted that the two women on the bicycle are not wearing safety helmets.  The Board noted the advertiser’s response that the advertisement was filmed on private property.  The Board noted that the women are depicted riding on a footpath adjacent to a road and considered that it is not obvious that this area is private therefore the most likely interpretation is that the women are riding on a road-related area.    

Upholding the complaint, it added:

Overall the Board considered that the advertisement did depict material contrary to prevailing community standards on health and safety.

The advertiser subsequently edited the spot to remove the offending footage, which lasted just 3 seconds.

While in part the Advertising Standards Board’s decision was based on the fact that it wasn’t clear whether or not the women riding the tandem were on the public highway, what is abundantly evident from the Emirates poster is that the cyclist isn’t in Australia at all.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.