ASA Adjudication on Unilever UK Ltd
Unilever UK Ltd
11 July 2012
Health and beauty
Number of complaints:
Summary of Council decision:
Three issues were investigated, all of which were Not upheld.
A TV ad, for Lynx Attract deodorant, began with large on-screen text that stated "Breaking News" while news bulletin style music played. The text remained on screen in the top left-hand corner of the screen throughout the ad. A newsreader, shown in a TV studio, said "News reports just in of an epidemic spreading across the world. Earlier today in Barcelona a light aircraft made an emergency landing, where it is believed the pilot and passengers became entangled". Filmed showed the aircraft with the occupants removing their clothing. On-screen text stated "LYNX EFFECT EPIDEMIC" and "FIRST LYNX FOR WOMEN CAUSES CHAOS". The newsreader continued "In Berlin escaped animals bring the City to a standstill. Eyewitnesses at the zoo were claiming keepers were openly using the spray". Animals were shown running amok, including a gorilla holding a bra on top of a bus with "69 BERLIN" on the front display. The newsreader said "Scenes in New York show how quickly the epidemic is spreading. Emergency responders say the scale of the chaos may be beyond any sense of control". Scenes were shown of people dressed in gas masks and protective clothing pulling semi-naked couples apart on the streets, while sirens could be heard in the background. A couple were shown on a balcony removing their clothing as they rushed towards each other. The newsreader continued "Felicity Jones is in New York" and the reporter was shown trying to speak to the camera before being picked up by a topless man wearing a rabbit mask. The newsreader said "The EU are warning men and women stay inside, lock your doors. Avoid all contact with the opposite sex and do not buy new Lynx Attract" as an EU spokesman was seen kissing a female reporter.
The ad was cleared by Clearcast with a post 7.30pm restriction.
1. Ten viewers challenged whether the ad, which gave the impression that it was a newsflash, was quickly recognisable as an ad.
2. Nineteen viewers challenged whether the sexual content of the ad was offensive. Five of those viewers also challenged whether the ad was appropriate to be broadcast when children might be watching.
3. Four viewers challenged whether the ad was offensive, because it made light of serious issues such as aeroplane accidents and epidemics.
1. Unilever said they had taken great care to ensure that viewers were aware that it was an ad that they were watching. They used a fantastical and humorous tone, interspersed with regular references to Lynx Attract with the first mention taking place 14 seconds into the ad, when the newsreader said "Governments are blaming new Lynx Attract" at the same time as on-screen text stated "Lynx Effect Epidemic. First Lynx for Women causes chaos" and the product was shown on screen. They believed that the text and dialogue, together with the humorous situation of a plane landing because the people inside were too attracted to each other for them to carry on flying, made it immediately obvious to viewers that it was an ad.
Unilever believed that the continuation of funny, surreal situations, which would not normally be featured or shown in that style as part of a genuine news item, made it obvious to viewers that it was a spoof and not a real news item. They said, although Clearcast had given the ad a post 7.30pm restriction, they instructed the TV stations to only show the ad after 9pm and therefore believed that the audience at that time of night would understand that the ad was not a real news item.
Clearcast said they worked closely with the creative agency and, in order to avoid any possible confusion, ensured that there was obvious branding throughout the ad with Lynx pack shots and references in voice-over and on-screen text. They believed the 'news' stories such as scantily clad people kissing in a plane, a zookeeper chasing penguins, an ape with a bra, people kissing in the street, and an EU spokesman kissing a reporter were so farfetched that it was clear that it was an ad and not a real news bulletin.
2. Unilever said the Lynx campaign was known for its playful, sexy, tongue-in-check take on the 'mating game' narrative, with the key theme being the attractiveness of the product to women, known as the "Lynx Effect". They believed audiences had come to expect, and were comfortable with, the type of narrative, tone and content seen in their Lynx advertising. They said the Lynx Attract range was the first to include a bodyspray for women and the ad was intended to show that men were also subject to the "Lynx Effect".
Unilever said the ad was intended to be humorous; there was no full nudity in the ad, with people either wearing beach clothes or underwear, and although some people were shown kissing and embracing, others were seen dancing and smiling, but not in sexualised or provocative ways. They said Clearcast gave the ad a post 7.30pm timing restriction, a restriction that allowed for moderate innuendo and moderate non-graphic sexual activity. Unilever said however that they told the TV stations to only show the ad after 9pm. They said the ad was specifically scheduled not to be shown when young children might be watching, but acknowledged that one broadcaster had, in error, shown the ad on a few occasions between 7.30pm and 9pm. Unilever nonetheless believed that the images were mild and unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence to a general viewing audience.
Clearcast believed the ad went no further than previous Lynx campaigns, which featured fairly sexual but light-hearted treatments. They said the ad showed people in a plane undressing, but only to their underwear, as were the other people shown in the ad. They believed the level of sexual activity warranted nothing more than a post 7.30pm restriction as the scenes were fairly mild and because, with that restriction, young children were unlikely to see the ad.
3. Unilever said the ad did not feature a plane accident and believed that it was clear that the plane had landed safely. They said the ad established early on that the 'epidemic' was the rapid spread of the "Lynx Effect", not the spread of an actual epidemic or disease. They said no one was shown to be hurt or frightened, and 'epidemic' had been used in a way often used to refer to a widespread fashion or craze. They said the ad was not intended to make light of serious issues and believed that most viewers would not understand it in that way.
Clearcast believed it was clear that the plane had landed safely, because the passengers needed to undress, not because there was a problem with the plane and the concept was clearly fantastical. They said they were not aware of any recent epidemic similar to that portrayed in the ad, which was another fantastical idea, and therefore believed that it was not making light of epidemics in general.
1. Not upheld
The ASA noted BCAP Code rule 2.2 stated that if an ad featured elements reminiscent of a news bulletin then the audience should be able to recognise quickly the message as an ad. In this case, although the ad was in the style of a news bulletin with text stating "Breaking News" remaining on-screen throughout, we considered that it was nonetheless quickly recognisable as an ad. The newsreader's tone lacked urgency and the scenes of the people undressing and kissing in the plane established early in the ad that it was clearly fantasy. Those scenes were followed by on-screen text stating "LYNX EFFECT EPIDEMIC" and "FIRST LYNX FOR WOMEN CAUSES CHAOS" with the product pictured at the top of the screen, emphasising that the material was an ad and not a news bulletin.
We considered that, because the comic nature of the ad was established early, it was unlikely to be understood by viewers to be part of a real news bulletin and concluded that the ad did not breach the Code.
On this point, we investigated the ad under BCAP Code rules 2.1 and 2.2 (Recognition of advertising), but did not find it in breach.
2. Not upheld
We understood that Unilever intended the ad for a more adult audience and had scheduled it post 9pm although Clearcast had applied a post 7.30pm restriction. In most cases the ad had been broadcast after 9pm except where, due to an error by one broadcaster, it was shown after 7.30pm.
Even though the people featured in the ad were either undressing or shown in their underwear, we noted that no actual nudity was featured, and considered the sexual content was relatively mild. Although some viewers found the sexual content offensive, we considered that it was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence to most adults.
Regarding the scheduling, although the relatively mild sexual content would likely be considered inappropriate by most parents for children to see, we considered that the post 7.30pm restriction would minimise the risk of children, and particularly very young children, from seeing the ad. We concluded that the timing restriction applied was appropriate.
On this point, we investigated the ad under BCAP Code rules 4.2 (Harm and Offence) and 32.3 (Scheduling), but did not find it in breach.
3. Not upheld
We noted the ad did not show a plane accident, but referred to an emergency landing caused by passengers becoming amorous. We also noted the ad referred to an "epidemic", but the scenarios were not rooted in reality and did not represent any real life incidents. We understood that the references to an emergency plane landing and an epidemic might not have been to all tastes, but considered that, given the way the material was presented, the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence to viewers.
On this point, we investigated the ad under BCAP Code rule 4.2 (Harm and offence), but did not find it in breach.
No further action necessary.