• Wicked Campers' Leanne Webb says the company doesn't try to be controversial (Screenshot: SBS)
Hire company Wicked Campers has copped criticism for its 'colourful' vehicles but the company says it just wants 'to have a good time'.
By
Lin Taylor

14 Jul 2014 - 1:47 PM  UPDATED 20 Jul 2014 - 9:09 AM

A campervan company at the centre of a 50,000-strong online petition to have its ‘misogynistic and degrading’ slogan-covered vehicles taken off the road says it never set out to be controversial.

Wicked Campers, a hire company marketed at backpackers wanting to travel the country on a budget, has already been the subject of complaints to the Advertising Standards Board for its explicit graffiti artwork and controversial slogans.

The Queensland government is set to debate the fate of the Brisbane-based company later this month, and one local mayor is pushing for Wicked to come under the same scrutiny as outdoor advertising.

Now, an online petition kicked off by Sydney mother Paula Orbea hopes to pressure the company to take vehicles featuring phrases such as “in every princess there is a little slut who wants to try it just once” off the road for good.

But Wicked says the company is unfazed with the public backlash.

“We don’t try to be controversial. It’s not our goal. We just do what we love and just have fun,” Wicked Campers’ Leanne Webb, 24, told SBS. 

“We have all kinds of people of all kinds of orientation, of all kinds of races and everything like that, including myself as well," said Ms Webb, who is gay and formerly known as Liam. 

"But we just want to have a good time. We poke fun at everything more broadly, it’s never specifically targeted at anyone in particular at all.”

What Wicked Campers say about the artwork on its vans

Popular amongst backpackers around the world, the Australian company is famous for its spray-painted graffiti artwork and slogans that offend people wherever they go. 

Things like: "virginity can be cured" or "In every princess, there's a little slut who wants to try it just once" - the latter landing them in hot water over the weekend from the online community. 

Sydney mother Paula Orbea started an online petition at Change.org calling on Wicked campers to "eliminate misogynistic and degrading slogans and imagery" from their vans. The petition has attracted nearly 60,000 supporters by Monday evening.

Wicked Campers founder John Webb told SBS he didn’t recognise the van, and wasn’t sure the van was one of his since the registration number was blurred out in the photo.

Mr Webb also told SBS he wasn’t concerned by the petition. He said bad publicity was better and easier to get, and he was "happy to see" Wicked get marketed around the world because of the online petition. 

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Banning offensive Wicked vans?

Mr Webb first launched Wicked Campers in Brisbane in 2000, and now has 34 depots around the world in countries such as Japan, South Africa, New Zealand and the US. 

In the past seven years alone, Wicked has received nearly 60 complaints through the Advertising Standards Board in Australia. The most notable case this year came from the slogan: “Fat girls are harder to kidnap". 

Although half of these complaints have been upheld, Wicked continues to ignore warnings given by the Standards Board.

But in Queensland, the state government is debating the fate of Wicked and is pushing to ban offensive Wicked vans altogether.

Sunshine Coast mayor Mark Jamieson told SBS he wants Wicked vans classified as a form of outdoor advertising and subject to the same rules as commercial billboards.

"I think people would be absolutely horrified if the same messages on Wicked campers were on roadside billboards and the impact is exactly the same," he said.

"My preference would be for the company to realise they’ve overstepped the mark and take the responsible action to form a new trust with the community.

"If they're not prepared to do that, then I’m calling on the state government to invoke legislation or indeed, tie Wicked campers to standards that relate to outdoor advertising."

Mr Jamieson said he finds the slogans and artwork on Wicked vans extremely offensive and demeaning towards women.

"I just think they push the boundaries in terms of some of the slogans and messages they allow to be printed on some of their motor vehicles," he told SBS.

"Certainly I’ve seen sexual messages demeaning women. I think there’s a standard that society expects and is prepared to accept and in my view, these messages have gone beyond that."

If state laws are changed, it means authorities can crack down on offensive vans, and potentially ban them from public places like beaches and caravan parks.

Should Wicked Campers be banned? SBS's Lin Taylor reports

Determining what is or isn’t offensive

However, arts lawyer Ben Kay told SBS doesn't think the Queensland government will change its outdoor advertising laws to clamp down on Wicked vans. Other states are also unlikely to follow suit.

"Usually reform in these kinds of media areas is quite hard to implement and doesn’t necessarily get through," Mr Kay told SBS.

"Previous efforts to regear the regulation of the advertisement industry haven’t been seen as necessary. They’ve got a self–regulatory scheme at the moment that is usually considered to be quite strong. So, I don’t think it’ll be likely to be picked up [by other states]."

Working out what is or isn’t offensive will also be a legal nightmare.

"Determining what’s offensive can be quite difficult," he said. "If you look at the Advertising Standards Board and the complaints they consider quite regularly, different people consider different things to be quite offensive... Some people find very mild things quite offensive.

"[It] would also mean that either the police would be enforcing this, or caravan park owners or council rangers, so I think practically, it would be pushing the responsibility from one party to another."

The Queensland government will decide the fate of Wicked Camper vans later this month.

'We’re not worried'

Leanne Webb told SBS they weren't worried about any public backlash, changes to advertising laws, or warnings from the Advertising Standards Board.

"We’re not worried at all that it will affect business in any way," said Ms Webb. "We think it’s fantastic, things are more fun when they’re banned."

Ms Webb told SBS she thought it was "great" that people were exercising their right to be offended.

"It’s great that people get offended. It’s great that people have opinions because it means they know what they like and what they don’t like."

Do you think Wicked vans are offensive? Should they be banned? Tweet @sbsnews or comment below.