Only fudging joking: ASA rejects ‘expletive’ complaints

Green Flag 2The Advertising Standards Authority has cleared two separate campaigns which made a play on what would otherwise have been foul and explicit language, despite a raft of complaints from upset members of the public.

The first case concerned a TV ad for Green Flag breakdown cover, devised by Engine Creative, which launched this summer and included scenes of people involved in various car breakdown scenarios.

A voiceover stated: “When you break down, your first words probably aren’t Green Flag, but maybe they should be your second, because if your flipping car fudging goes kaput we’ll rescue you anywhere in the country, and you can track our truck all the chuffing way with our app, we’ll even halve your AA or RAC renewal quote. So whatever your first words let’s make your last ones thank truck I went with Green Flag”.

The ad was cleared by Clearcast without a scheduling restriction.

However, the ASA received 46 complaints from members of the public, who all challenged whether the ad was offensive as it alluded to using expletives; while 16 of them also challenged whether the ad was scheduled inappropriately, as it was broadcast throughout the day when children could be watching.

In response, Green Flag said that the intention of the ad was to parody recognised frustrations from breaking down, which could sometimes result in the use of ’colourful’ language, and that the use of their services could help alleviate those frustrations.

The firm stated that the tone was intended to be humorous and playful and that the words used were those in common usage and could be used as inoffensive, socially acceptable alternatives to expletives.

It had even conducted consumer research on the ad and found that only 3% of 165 people surveyed had an issue with the use of the words. As such they did not believe that the ad would cause either serious or widespread offence.

In its ruling the ASA considered many viewers would understand most of the words used were often used as alternatives to swearing but as no actual expletives were used, they were unlikely to be mistaken, or confused, for the expletive by listeners.

The watchdog did recognise that some listeners might find the wordplay distasteful but concluded that the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.

The regulator also dismissed the complaints about scheduling, ruling that younger children were unlikely to understand the wordplay and as such, they were also unlikely to recognise that the words were obscuring an expletive.

dominosThe second case concerned a leaflet from Domino’s Pizza that featured an image of a pizza and stated, “An even tastier stuffed crust? STFU!”.

Two complainants, who understood “STFU” was an acronym for “shut the fuck up”, challenged whether the ad was offensive and inappropriate to be distributed via letterboxes where it could be seen by children.

In response to the ASA investigation, Domino’s said the ad marked the tenth anniversary of its stuffed crust pizza and it wanted to convey a message about its new stuffed crust that would stand out, drive interest and engage with its audience.

The firm said customers had responded well to the playful tone and as a brand that it was known for being very light-hearted and fun, which is why it used that approach in the campaign.

Domino’s said a number of menus with “STFU” on them were already in the process of being delivered, but following the complaints it had decided to halt any further production of marketing material involving the STFU branding and would not run this campaign, or anything similar, in future.

However, in its ruling the ASA said that while the “STFU” expression was suggestive of the use of an expletive, the ad itself included the acronym and did not expressly include any explicit language. It therefore concluded the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.

Both campaigns have been cleared for future activity; whether Domino’s will have a change of heart and rerun the activity remains to be seen.

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