ASA Adjudication on Unilever UK Ltd
Unilever UK Ltd
28 August 2013
Internet (social networking)
Food and drink
Number of complaints:
Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, one of which was partially Upheld and one Not upheld..
Three online ads, for Piri Piri Pot Noodles:
a. A video ad seen on the Pot Noodle Facebook page, opened with a young man sitting on a bus, eating a Pot Noodle and struggling to cope with its spiciness. Whilst eating, he saw a young woman next to a pole. She was looking at him in a seductive manner. The man and woman started dancing and, towards the end of the ad, the woman took her top off whilst the man watched. He then realised that the Pot Noodle pot was empty and the woman was revealed to be a shabbily dressed man. The voice-over stated "Dreaming of something a bit hotter? With new Piri Piri chicken flavour it's easy to peel the top off a hottie." The ad concluded with an image of two Pot Noodle lids, which were arranged to suggest a woman's bust, along with the text "PEEL THE TOP OFF A HOTTIE".
b. The ad, which was an online game, appeared on the Pot Noodle Facebook page. It showed a cartoon image of the young woman and shabbily dressed man from the video, standing in Pot Noodle containers. In the centre of the ad, there was a picture of two Pot Noodle lids, arranged in the same way as the in the video, alongside the text "PEEL THE TOP OFF A HOTTIE".
c. The ad appeared on the Pot Noodle Facebook page. It showed a female model in a bikini next to a picture of a Pot Noodle with the text "Phwarr is it me or is it getting hot in here? HOT OFF. Which one gets you hotter?".
1. Eighteen complainants challenged whether the ads were offensive, sexist and degrading to women.
2. Six of the complainants also challenged whether the ads were irresponsible and harmful because they suggested it was acceptable to try and remove women's clothing without their consent.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
1. Unilever UK (Unilever) said the ad followed their typical tongue-in-cheek style for Pot Noodle advertising and said the gist of the ads was the comparison between a spicy product and an attractive person, in this case female, both capable of being called "hottie". They said the word "hottie" was in common use, including mainstream media, and believed the phrase would not cause deep or widespread offence. They said the video ad showed the heat of the pot noodle product which inspired him to fantasise about an attractive female, another kind of "hottie". They said the ad made clear that it was a daydream and not a real life situation and that when the male character awoke from that daydream he was confronted with reality. They believed this added a humorous twist to the video, something which was regularly done with Pot Noodle advertising.
They believed the video was not sexually explicit and believed it was not sexist or degrading to women. They said the fantasy element showed two people flirting and having fun and that the female character was not dressed in an inappropriate or revealing way. They also said that the female character was shown to be in control all the time rather than just a subject of desire for the male character and although she appeared to start to remove her top, it was very much part of the daydream element and the surprise was that before it happened, she was revealed to be a man.
They said that the strapline "peel the top off a hottie" linked the spiciness of the product with the Pot Noodle experience more generally, which involved peeling off the top and adding hot water. They said that although the claim could also have an alternative meaning, specifically if seen in combination with the video and Pot Noodle lids, it was very light-hearted innuendo that the Pot Noodle audience was used to, rather than an invitation or an approval of peeling a woman's top off.
They said the target demographic for Pot Noodle was 18 to 24 years of age and believed the ads were targeted accordingly. They said the ad did not appear in broadcast media or advertised anywhere outside of the internet, where they were heavily targeted. They said the video could be seen on YouTube and on the Pot Noodle Facebook page and that the ad for the game was used on Facebook to generate content through advertising of the Pot Noodle Facebook page on other sites targeted at the demographic.
2. They said the ads made use of the cheeky and humorous tone commonly used in Pot Noodle advertising as well as a play on the word "hottie". They said that despite an element of light-hearted innuendo, the ads did not in any way condone or advocate that it was acceptable to remove another person's clothing without their consent.
1. Upheld in relation to ad (c) only
The ASA noted video ad (a) featured a scene in which the female character and the male character flirted in a playful way and that although the tone of the scene changed slightly when the female character was shown (from behind) starting to voluntarily remove her top, this image was very brief and was immediately replaced by the reality of the situation and that it was actually a man with whom the main character was flirting. Although the tone of the ad was mildly sexual, we considered that the interaction between the characters was not salacious and that the female character was not presented in a sexist or degrading way. We therefore concluded that the ad was unlikely to cause serious offence to those visiting the Pot Noodle Facebook page.
We noted ad (b) was presented in cartoon-like style and featured two of the characters (the female character from the video ad along with her male counterpart) and that the text "Peel the top off a hottie" was overlaid on two Pot Noodle lids which were positioned and shaded in such a way they looked like a pair of breasts in a low cut top. Although we considered some consumers may have found the ad distasteful, we considered the images were likely to be seen as puerile rather than sexually explicit and considered that the ad was unlikely to cause serious offence to those visiting the Pot Noodle Facebook page.
We noted ad (c) featured an image of the female character from the ads wearing red knickers and a revealing red bra and that she was posed in a provocative way. We further noted the image of the woman was presented next to the image of the product with text stating "Hot off" and "Which one gets you hotter?". Although we noted the intention of the ad was a tongue-in-cheek play on the word "hottie", we considered the presentation of the woman in a sexual pose and the blatant comparison with the food product was crass and degrading and therefore likely to cause serious offence to some visitors to Pot Noodle Facebook page
On this point we investigated ads (a) and (b) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 (Social responsibility) and 4.1 (Harm and offence) but did not find them in breach.
On this point ad (c) breached CAP Code (Edition12) rules 1.3 (Social responsibility) and 4.1 (Harm and offence).
2. Not upheld
We noted all of the ads made use of the phrase "peel the top off a hottie" and considered consumers would understand from their content that this phrase was a play on words and as a reference to both the removal of an attractive person's top (in this instance a woman) and the removal of the Pot Noodle lid. Although video ad (a) showed a brief image of the female character beginning to remove her top in the flirtation scene, the male character merely watched on and the female character was not shown to be doing anything against her will. Although ad (b) featured the pot noodle lids shaped like breasts with one of the lids starting to be peeled off (revealing fire underneath to represent the heat of the product) and ad (c) featured the female character in her underwear, neither ad used visual images to show the removal of the female characters clothing with, or without their consent. We considered that although some visitors to the Pot Noodle Facebook page may have found the "Peel the top of a hottie" to be distasteful, we considered that none of the ads condoned the removal of a woman's clothing without her consent or suggested that such an act was likely to be acceptable.
On this point we investigated ads (a), (b) and (c) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 4.4 (Harm and offence) but did not find them in breach.
Ad (c) should not appear again in its current form. We told Unilever to avoid using offensive images in future ads.