Chris Smith, originally a Labour politician, has stepped down after 10 years as chairman of the advert censors at ASA.
No doubt he has done sterling work on sorting out fraudulent and misleading claims. But when it comes to censoring politically incorrect adverts, he has suffered 'widespread offence' so many times, that he must be a jibbering wreck.
Complaints to the ASA in the first half of 2017 show that TV continues to be the most complained about advertising medium with 5,127 complaints about 2,272 ads. Online ads are a close second (4,062 complaints), with more individual ads (3,852)
complained about than any other medium.
In total, we received 13,131 complaints (19.8% fewer than last year) about 9,486 ads (January - June). As a result of our work, we have secured the amendment or withdrawal of 3,034 ads over the six month period (up 88% compared to the first half
of 2016, itself a record year).
Misleading ads continue to prompt the most complaints 8,195 (62%) and represent the bulk of the ASA's workload (accounting for 76% of cases).
There is a clear difference between TV and online ads in terms of the issues that prompt public concern: The majority of complaints about TV ads are on the grounds of offence (3,439) rather than misleadingness (1,677); while the majority of
complaints about online ads concern misleadingness (3,673) rather than harm and offence (360).
The reasons for these trends are explained by the differences in audience size and viewing habits for the two media, as well as the pre-clearance checks in place for TV. A large proportion of potentially misleading claims in TV ads are stopped
before they're broadcast.
The new figures show that men continue to complain more about ads than women (59% to 38%). In total, men lodged 7,729 complaints compared to 5,031 by women. There are also marked differences in the kind of ads complained about, with women
complaining more about harm and offence (F: 56% v M: 44%) while men complain more about misleadingness (M: 70% v F: 30%).
And presumably as a bit of a carrot for newspapers to print an article about the importance of ASA, the advert censor provided the top 3 most complained about adverts for the period:
The Moneysupermarket dance-off ads featuring a man called Dave wearing denim cutoffs and heels received the most complaints, 455, with viewers objecting that it was offensive and overtly sexual, possibly homophobic and having the potential to
encourage hate crimes.
Match.com's ad showing a woman removing her partner's top and passionately kissing her drew the second-highest number of complaints at 293.
McDonald's swiftly pulled its poorly received campaign featuring a mother helping her son grieve for his father while sitting in one of the chain's restaurants, but not before viewers lodged 255 complaints that it exploited child bereavement to
sell fast food.
A press ad by Paddy Power bookmakers, seen in the 23 August 2017 edition of the Evening Standard and
the 24 August 2017 edition of the Metro, featured the headline claim ALWAYS BET ON BLACK alongside an image of Floyd Mayweather. Further text stated WE'VE PAID OUT EARLY ON A MAYWEATHER VICTORY BECAUSE WE CHECKED, AND ONLY ONE OF THEM IS A BOXER.
Nine complainants, who considered that the headline contained an obvious reference to Floyd Mayweather's race, challenged whether the ad was likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
Power Leisure Bookmakers Ltd t/a Paddy Power said the ad was not intended to cause offence on the grounds of race. They said the headline was a gambling related pun as the fight was taking place in Las Vegas and betting on black was a roulette
reference. They acknowledged that the headline referred to Floyd Mayweather's race, but said it was not used in a derogatory, distasteful or offensive manner and the overall tone of the ad was light-hearted and humorous. They said the early pay
out was not based on Floyd Mayweather's race but on his experience as a professional boxer compared with Conor McGregor who had never boxed professionally.
Paddy Power said the campaign was approved by Floyd Mayweather who found the line funny, rather than offensive or derogatory. The phrase always bet on black was embroidered on the underwear Floyd Mayweather's wore at the official weigh-in for the
match in Las Vegas. Floyd Mayweather also posted an image of himself wearing the underwear on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #alwaysbetonblack, which was not part of the sponsorship deal.
ASA Assessment: Complaints upheld
The CAP Code required marketers to ensure that ads did not contain anything that was likely to cause serious or widespread offence, and for particular care to be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of race. The ad appeared in the sports
section of two free untargeted newspapers, and was therefore likely to have been seen by a wide-range of people. It featured the prominent headline Always Bet on Black, alongside an image of the boxer Floyd Mayweather, who was a black male. We
considered that readers would interpret the headline to be a pun on Floyd Mayweather's race and betting on roulette. We understood that the headline was also intended to be a reference to a 1992 film quote. There was, however, nothing further in
the ad which indicated that the headline was a film quote, and we considered that many readers would be unfamiliar with the quote.
We acknowledged that the headline claim did not make a negative statement about Floyd Mayweather's race and had endorsed him to win the match. We also acknowledged that Floyd Mayweather had authorised the claim. However, we considered that readers
would nevertheless be offended by the invitation to always bet on the outcome of a boxing match based on a boxer's race, and the message that the boxing match was a fight between two different races. For those reasons, we concluded that the ad was
likely to cause serious offence on the grounds of race.
We told Paddy Power to ensure they avoided causing serious offence on the grounds of race.
A tweet from the Bank's [sic] Beer twitter account, dated 12 April 2017, stated Easter is on it's [ASA's
sic] way #easter #beer #tellitlikeitis #Wolverhampton. The tweet contained an image which featured a graffiti painting on a wall of Jesus sitting on a bench with a halo above his head. The image showed Jesus wearing a rabbit costume with the head
taken off and placed on the bench. Below the bench was a basket filled with Easter eggs. Next to the bench was a pint glass branded with text which stated BANK'S TELL IT LIKE IT IS.
A complainant, who believed the image of Jesus in a rabbit costume trivialised Christianity, challenged whether the ad was offensive.
ASA Assessment: Complaint not upheld
The ASA noted that the tweet was posted during the Easter period and contained an image of Jesus wearing a rabbit costume. We acknowledged that the depiction of Jesus, and particularly the timing of the tweet, could be interpreted as distasteful
by some people of a Christian faith. However, we considered that most people would not find the portrayal of Jesus to be mocking or derogatory. Because we considered that the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence, we concluded
that it had not breached the Code.
The Bigger Drive Home
City Beat Preston, 8 June 2017, 18:35
City Beat Preston is a community radio station broadcasting in Preston, Lancashire.
The Bigger Drive Home is the station’s drive-time programme, broadcast every Monday to Thursday between 15:00 and 19:00.
Ofcom received a complaint about an edition of the programme broadcast on 8 June 2017 which referred to transgender people. Towards the end of the programme the presenter read out a list of people who were celebrating their birthdays on that date
and then said:
“And if you’re out and about having a few drinks tonight, don’t forget like I always tell you – if you are single and you meet somebody tonight, make sure you know exactly what they’re gonna be looking like in the morning. I know [another
CityBeat presenter], he does it all the time. Goes out, has a few beers, meets a girl and then wakes up in the morning and finds out it’s, er, a transgender. Ah! [laughter] Can I say that? ‘Course I can!”
Around two and a half minutes later, and following an advertising break, the presenter said:
“And by the way, I was only joking about transgenders and [another CityBeat presenter]”.
Ofcom considered Rule 2.3:
“In applying generally accepted standards broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context…”.
Ofcom decision: Breach of rule 2.3
Ofcom considered whether the broadcast contained material which could be considered offensive. The presenter sought to make a joke by referring to a colleague’s experience with transgender people. We considered this had the effect of portraying
transgender people in a negative and derogatory way and therefore had the potential to be offensive.
We took into account that the presenter went on to say: “And by the way, I was only joking about transgenders and [another CityBeat presenter]”. In Ofcom’s view, this may have provided some limited mitigation to the potential offence. However, we
considered that the presenter’s use of the collective noun “transgenders” had further potential to cause offence.
Therefore, for the reasons outlined above, we considered that the content was in breach of Rule 2.3 of the Code.
A paid-for Facebook post for carolgames.com's online game Blade of Queen, seen on 3 May 2017, stated Warning!
Please make sure your girlfriend is not by your side when playing-- [ Click to start ]. Beneath that was a 3D computer game image of a woman lying down and facing away from a camera. Text on blue buttons in the bottom left and right corners of the
image stated Fondle and Ravage.
A complainant, who believed the ad invited consumers to fantasise about committing sexual assault, challenged whether the ad was irresponsible and likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
ReadMob Technologies (Hong Kong) Ltd t/a carolgames.com did not respond to the ASA's enquiries.
ASA Assessment: Complaint Upheld
The ASA was concerned by carolgames.com's lack of response and apparent disregard for the Code, which was a breach of CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.7 1.7 Any unreasonable delay in responding to the ASA's enquiries will normally be considered a
breach of the Code. (Unreasonable delay). We reminded them of their responsibility to respond promptly to our enquiries and told them to do so in the future.
We considered the image of the woman, who was faced away from the viewer and seemed to be sleeping, implied fondle and ravage were non-consensual actions and therefore referred to acts of sexual assault. The text above the image which stated
Warning! Please make sure your girlfriend is not by your side when playing reinforced the impression that the user's actions were likely to be regarded by others as shameful or immoral.
We considered that referring to sexual assault in that manner in an ad for a video game trivialised and condoned sexual violence, and as such was likely to cause serious and widespread offence. We concluded the ad had not been prepared with a
sense of responsibility to consumers and to society.
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told carolgames.com not to trivialise or condone sexual violence in their advertising, to ensure their ads did not cause serious or widespread offence, and to ensure they prepare ads with a
sense of responsibility to consumers and to society. We referred the matter to the CAP's Compliance Team.
Two TV ads and a cinema ad for online music service Spotify were seen between 28 April and 13 May 2017.
a. One TV ad showed a family at a dinner table. While the son was singing along to a song, the mother said (to camera) What he doesn't know is that he was made to this song. In this room. On this table.
b. The second TV ad showed a teenage girl outside a closed bedroom door. Music could be heard from within. The girl said Yep. Bieber's 'Love Yourself'. I think we all know what's going on in there.
c. The cinema ad was identical to ad (a).
The ASA received 81 complaints, raising one or more of the following issues:
164 complainants, most of whom saw the ad during Britain's Got Talent and Take Me Out on Saturday 29 April 2017, challenged whether ad (a) was offensive and unsuitable to be broadcast during programmes watched by children, because of the sexual
reference it contained.
18 complainants, who saw the ad during Britain's Got Talent on Saturday 6 May 2017, challenged whether ad (b) was offensive and unsuitable to be broadcast during a programme watched by children, because they believed it implied the person in the
bedroom was masturbating.
Two complainants, who saw ad (c) in the cinema before the film Guardians of the Galaxy 2 on Friday 28 and Saturday 29 April 2017, challenged whether the ad was offensive and unsuitable to be shown before a film whose audience was likely to
The Cinema Advertising Association (CAA) said they considered the suggestive humour of the ad required only a minor restriction as its full meaning would not be understood by younger viewers who were not already aware of what it referred to. They
considered it was appropriate to keep sexually risque humour away from very young children but noted that the minors in the audience of a 12A film were likely to be older and have some knowledge of the facts of life. They accepted that that could
give rise to a minor degree of embarrassment between some parents and their children, but that that did not signify that the ad had caused serious or widespread offence.
ASA Assessment: Complaints not upheld
1. and 2. Not upheld
The ASA acknowledged that both ads contained implied sexual references. We considered, however, that the references were not explicit and were unlikely to be understood by young children. We noted that Clearcast had given the ads a scheduling
restriction to prevent them being broadcast in or adjacent to programmes commissioned for, principally directed at or likely to appeal to children. The audience data bore out that, while the programmes had general appeal, they did not have
particular appeal to children. We therefore concluded that the ads were not offensive or unsuitable to be broadcast in breaks in those programmes at those times.
3. Not upheld
We acknowledged that the ad contained an implied sexual reference. We considered, however, that the reference was not explicit and was unlikely to be understood by young children. We acknowledged that the film would have children in the audience,
but we noted that those children were likely to be older or accompanied. Given the mild nature of the sexual reference, we therefore concluded that the ad was not offensive or unsuitable to be shown in that context.
A poster for 4Play Adult Store, which appeared near a bus stop in Whitley Bay in Tyne and Wear, was seen
on 25 April 2017. The ad contained text that stated 4play adult store ... Use our new Click & Collect service to receive an additional 10% Discount. The ad also featured an image of a woman dressed in purple bra, knickers, suspenders and
stockings. She was reclining on her side with her arm raised and her hand touching her head.
A complainant, who believed that the ad was unsuitable for display where children could see it, challenged whether the ad was irresponsible.
ASA Assessment: Complaint not upheld
The ASA noted that the model featured in the ad was in a reclining pose that accentuated her chest and hips. The model's hair appeared tousled, her lips were slightly parted and she had a sultry facial expression. Although the model was wearing a
matching lingerie set, we noted that it was not overtly revealing and the ad did not show any nudity. We noted that the name of the shop was a play on words and acknowledged that some might find the name distasteful, but considered that the pun
was unlikely to be understood by most children. We also acknowledged that some might find the products sold by the shop distasteful, but noted that such products could be advertised as long as ads complied with the Code and were not irresponsible,
harmful or offensive in their presentation.
Notwithstanding the nature of the products sold by Damcott, we considered that the image featured was sensual, and the ad overall was sexually suggestive but not explicit. The size of the poster and the location on a main high street meant that it
was likely to attract some attention. Although we understood that the ad in question did not have a placement restriction, we noted that it had been placed more than 100m away from schools located in the area. We therefore considered that the ad
had not been inappropriately placed and that it was not irresponsible.
Two digital outdoor ads displayed on large screens in two stations in central London, for the film Alien: Covenant, seen in early May 2017:
a. The first ad began with a spacecraft approaching a planet followed by scenes on the planet. In one scene a man in a dark room shined a torch on an alien egg, the top of which began to slowly open. A close-up showed an alien-like mouth suddenly
exploding from it, towards the camera. A woman in distress was then shown running down a corridor, being chase by an arachnid-like alien, followed by a close-up of her screaming. An arachnid-like alien was then shown running towards the camera.
The final shot showed a woman hiding from an alien which was just on the other side of a door frame.
b. The second ad featured large on-screen text which stated in turn: RUN, HIDE, SCREAM and PRAY. The text appeared next to brief clips from the film, including the scene with the woman in distress running down a corridor being chased by an alien,
the alien egg slowly opening, the close-up of the woman screaming, a woman looking panicked and shouting through the glass window in a closed door, the close-up of the alien-like mouth suddenly exploding towards the camera, and the final shot of a
woman hiding from an alien which was just on the other side of a door frame.
Three complainants, one of whose children had seen the ads, challenged whether the ads were likely to cause fear or distress, and whether they were suitable to be shown in an untargeted medium.
ASA Assessment: Complaints upheld
The ASA understood the film was rated as a 15 by the BBFC and considered that the advertiser should therefore have taken particular care to ensure that scenes included in the ads would be suitable to be shown in a public space where children were
likely to be present.
The ads contained scenes of characters who were clearly in distress, as well as images of an alien mouth suddenly exploding from an egg out towards the viewer, and a woman being chased by an alien. We considered those scenes were likely to
frighten and cause distress to some children and that the ads were likely to catch their attention, particularly as they were shown on large screens. We concluded the ads were not suitable to be shown in an untargeted public medium and therefore
breached the Code.
The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told Twentieth Century Fox Film Company Ltd to target their ads more carefully in future to avoid the risk of causing undue fear and distress to children.
A product listing on www.ratandboa.com, for The Christy Skirt, seen on 2 March 2017, which featured an image of a woman from the neck down wearing a top that partially exposed her breasts and revealed a nipple piercing.
A complainant challenged whether the image was offensive, because it was highly sexualised and objectified women.
Rat and Boa Ltd stated that while the image may have been distasteful to the individual complainant, the Code stated that this was not enough in itself to find a breach. They said that there was nothing in the ad to suggest anything that would
otherwise breach any other parts of the Code.
They explained that the woman in the photo was the co-founder of Rat and Boa and she had undertaken the shoot with her own free will and expression of artistic license. They stated that it was unreasonable to suggest that she would objectify women
ASA Assessment: Complaint upheld
The ASA noted that the image was cut-off at the model's shoulders and her breasts were partially exposed, revealing a nipple piercing. One hand was placed on the waist band of the skirt, pulling it down to show her lower abdomen. We considered
that the image was gratuitous and sexually provocative, because the model's pose emphasised her breasts and torso, rather than the product itself.
We concluded that, by using a sexualised image of a woman, the ad objectified women and was likely to cause serious and widespread offence.
The ad must not appear in its current form. We told Rat and Boa Ltd to ensure that their future ads did not contain anything that was likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
Two posts on the promoter's Facebook page advertising his Coco Beach Monday's club night at Lola Lo nightclub in
a. A post seen on their own Facebook page on 13 April 2017 included a picture of a female with her head titled back, her mouth wide open, her tongue extended out of her mouth and liquid being dropped in her eye with the accompanying text FREE
BUBBLY & VIP FOR GROUPS DISCOUNTED DRINKS & BIG TUNES ALL NIGHT.
b. An event invite for the Coco Beach Mondays club night seen on the complainants Facebook feed on 13 April 2017 included the same picture as above with the accompanying text Nice artwork 206 haha leaving to the imagination whats [sic] out of
The ASA challenged whether the ads:
1. linked alcohol with sexual activity; and
2. featured alcohol being served irresponsibly.
The ASA also received two complaints:
3. Both complainants believed that the image was sexually explicit and objectified women and challenged whether the ads were offensive.
ASA Assessment: complaints upheld
The ASA was concerned by Coco Beach Monday's lack of response and apparent disregard for the Code, and ruled that they had breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule (Unreasonable delay). We reminded them of their responsibility to provide a substantive
response to our enquiries and told them to do so in the future.
We considered that the way the model was posed with her head titled back, her mouth wide open with her tongue extended out and the liquid being poured out of shot, meant that the image was inherently sexual in nature. We considered that although
the exact type of liquid being poured in to the models eye was not revealed in the image, it was heavily implied to be alcohol. Further, the text contained in the image promoted free bubbly and discounted drinks available at the club night. We
therefore considered that because the image used in the ads was inherently sexual in nature and the text promoted free alcohol at the event, that it linked alcohol with sexual activity and therefore breached the Code.
The ads demonstrated alcohol being administered through the eyeball, known as eyeballing. This method of alcohol consumption had associated health risks. We concluded that the ads portrayed a style of drinking that was unwise and showed alcohol
being handled irresponsibly and therefore was in breach of the Code.
We considered the image used in the ads to be sexually gratuitous and provocative, and that it mimicked the style of facial pornography. This was further emphasised in ad (b) by the accompanying comment, which stated that the Facebook user should
imagine where the liquid came from. We considered that the image that appeared in both ads, taken together with the sexually suggestive comment that accompanied ad (b), objectified women. We therefore considered that the ads were sexist and likely
to cause serious wide spread offence.
The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told Coco Beach Monday's to ensure their future advertising was prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and society, and to ensure they did not link alcohol to sexual activity or
to show alcohol being handled or served irresponsibly. Further, we told them that they should ensure their ads did not contain anything that was likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
,ASA have published a report Depictions, Perceptions and Harm
arguing for stronger censorship of ads that feature stereotypical gender roles or characteristics which the ASA claims might be harmful to people, including ads which mock people for not conforming to gender stereotypes. ASA wrote in a press
Responding to the evidence, our sister body, CAP -- the authors of the UK Advertising Codes - will develop new standards on ads that feature stereotypical gender roles or characteristics. We will then administer and enforce those standards. CAP
will also use the evidence in the report to clarify standards that reflect our existing position on ads that objectify or inappropriately sexualise people or suggest it is acceptable to be unhealthily-thin.
The announcement comes at the conclusion of a major review into gender stereotyping in ads, with evidence suggesting that harmful stereotypes can restrict the choices, aspirations and opportunities of children, young people and adults. These
stereotypes can be reinforced by some advertising, which plays a part in unequal gender outcomes, with costs for individuals, the economy and society.
The aim of the review has been to consider whether regulation is doing enough to address the potential for harm or offence arising from gender stereotypes in ads. We have a track record of banning ads on grounds of objectification, inappropriate
sexualisation and for suggesting it is desirable for young women to be unhealthily thin. But we have ruled that ads that feature gender stereotypical roles or characters are unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence to their audience.
To test whether standards are in the right place, the review examined gender stereotyping across several spheres, including body image, objectification, sexualisation, gender characteristics and roles, and mocking people for not conforming to
gender stereotypes. To reach conclusions, evidence was gathered through a major independent research study by GfK -- the findings of which are also published today - alongside a wide-ranging consultation of expert stakeholders.
The key findings are these:
- The evidence shows support for the ASA's track record of banning ads that objectify or inappropriately sexualize people, and ads which suggest that it's acceptable for young women to be unhealthily thin
- But a tougher line is needed on ads that feature stereotypical gender roles or characteristics which can potentially cause harm, including ads which mock people for not conforming to gender stereotypes
The report indicates that the latter should be considered on grounds of potential harm to the audience, banning those gender stereotypes that are most likely to reinforce assumptions that adversely limit how people see themselves and how others
New standards are not intended to ban all forms of gender stereotypes. For example, the evidence falls short of calling for a ban on ads depicting a woman cleaning or a man doing DIY tasks. But, subject to context and content considerations, the
evidence suggests the following types of depictions are likely to be problematic:
- An ad which depicts family members creating a mess while a woman has sole responsibility for cleaning it up
- An ad that suggests a specific activity is inappropriate for boys because it is stereotypically associated with girls, or vice-versa
- An ad that features a man trying and failing to undertake simple parental or household tasks
CAP will report publically on its progress before the end of 2017 and commits, as always, to delivering training and advice on the new standards in good time before they come into force in 2018.
Chief Executive of the ASA, Guy Parker, said:
Portrayals which reinforce outdated and stereotypical views on gender roles in society can play their part in driving unfair outcomes for people. While advertising is only one of many factors that contribute to unequal gender outcomes, tougher
advertising standards can play an important role in tackling inequalities and improving outcomes for individuals, the economy and society as a whole.
Ella Smillie, lead report author, said:
Our review shows that specific forms of gender stereotypes in ads can contribute to harm for adults and children. Such portrayals can limit how people see themselves, how others see them, and limit the life decisions they take. Tougher standards
in the areas we've identified will address harms and ensure that modern society is better represented."
A Video on Demand (VOD) ad for Femfresh bikini line shaving products, seen on ITV Player and 4oD in March and April 2017, featured several women, who were wearing briefs and swimwear, dancing. It included multiple close-up shots of the women's
Seventeen complainants, who believed that the ad objectified women and portrayed them in an overly sexualised way, objected that it was offensive and socially irresponsible.
ASA Assessment: Complaints upheld
The ASA noted that Church & Dwight had received advice from Clearcast, which set out Clearcast's view that the ad was OK for VOD. However, we noted that the advertiser had primary responsibility for ensuring that VOD ads complied with the CAP
The ad promoted products for shaving the bikini line, and given their intended use, it was relevant for the ad to focus on that area of the body and show women wearing swimwear and fitness wear that exposed it. We also noted that many of the dance
moves used in the routine reflected those that might be seen in some exercise classes. However, overall we considered that the dance sequence was highly sexualised, in the style of a music video, and featured many thrusting dance moves. The ad
focused to a large extent on the women's crotches, with relatively few shots of their faces, and some of them wore high-cut swimsuits that were more exposing than many swimsuits. Even taking into account the nature of the product, we considered
that it had been presented in an overly-sexualised way that objectified women. We concluded that the ad was likely to cause serious or widespread offence and therefore breached the Code.
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Church & Dwight Ltd not to use advertising that objectified women and which was likely to cause serious or widespread offence to promote their products.