Brazil is a place many of us may associate with carnival, beaches, the amazon, religion, rainforests, beautiful people and, of course, the ‘beautiful game’. And with inspirational, sun-soaked Brazilian culture at the heart of this year’s World Cup tournament, there’s a wealth of opportunities for advertisers to create memorable and effective campaigns.

However, that same heady exotic atmosphere evoked by Brazil and the World Cup can make it all too easy to get carried away. As such, the ASA is urging advertisers to tread carefully, particularly where cultural references are concerned, and is providing some useful tips to help advertisers stick to the rules.

So, what can you do to avoid prompting complaints?

• Cultural and national stereotypes: Be especially careful to avoid causing offence with references to or depictions of different nationalities or ethnicities. Brazil is already a cultural melting pot and with a host of fans from around the world pouring into the country to watch the football, it’s as diverse as ever. Even when a stereotype is intended to be humorous, think, is it really? Or is it a lazy or negative stereotype that’s likely to prompt complaints?

• Treat cultural imagery, themes or foreign languages with the appropriate respect: The rules don’t prohibit you from tapping into and using the sights, sounds and heritage of a country to amplify the messages in your ad. But be sensitive about what you choose and how you use it. Are you featuring in your ad a significant and important piece of art, concept, product or individual central to a country’s or ethnic minority’s cultural identity? If so, avoid doing so in a way that’s likely to be seen as derogatory, belittling or that mocks.

• Be aware of religious sensitivities: The use of religion to promote products and services can be particularly risky. Again, the rules don’t prohibit advertisers from making reference to or depicting religion or religious themes in their ads. But advertisers should be mindful of context. For instance, taking something that is central to a particular faith and using it to promote a product or service in a way that offends against followers’ beliefs is likely to prompt serious or widespread offence.

• Be gracious in victory and defeat: The World Cup will, inevitably, throw up some big surprises including rousing victories and crushing defeats. When key incidents, such as sending offs or bad decisions occur, advertisers often have a very short timeframe in which to create an ad that will resonate with the public. Remember, poking fun at sporting controversy is fine but vilification of an individual player or country could cause offence, and look like sour grapes!

Significantly, the ASA’s already received several complaints concerning World Cup themed ads. For instance, the use of the ‘Christ the Redeemer’ statue, with one hand holding alcohol and an arm around a bikini clad female, to promote a betting service has prompted concerns that it’s offensive to Christians for associating and using religion alongside alcohol, gambling and sex. The ASA is carefully assessing the complaints to establish whether there are grounds for an investigation.

Also, while they were not upheld, a recent Pot Noodle TV ad generated complaints regarding nudity, depiction of women, and Brazilian cultural stereotypes. Proof, if it were needed, that a month of roaring crowds and sunshine doesn’t mean you should approach sensitive subjects like religion, cultural and gender stereotypes, nudity, gambling and alcohol with any less care.

If you’re preparing a World Cup themed campaign, we recommend taking a look at our AdviceOnline database, particularly the following entries:

Offence: Use of Stereotypes

Offence: Religion

Offence: Sexism

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