Religious themes and images are often used in ads. We provide chapter and verse on sticking to the rules.

Reference to traditions and fundamental beliefs

Advertisers should take care over referring to religious traditions or key beliefs, particularly when humour is intended. Although use of humour can act to mitigate offence, ads using religion as an object of ridicule are likely to prompt complaints. As a rule of thumb, if an ad appears to mock a religious belief or central tenet of a religion then it’s likely to be considered offensive.

A 2010 ad for Antonio Federici ice cream, showing two male priests about to kiss and the strapline “We Believe in Salivation” was investigated. Although the advertiser had intended the ad to be satirical, the ASA considered it was likely to be seen as an offensive distortion and mockery of Roman Catholic belief. However, their 2012 ad showing a Christmas nativity scene with the three wise men bearing gifts of ice cream was seen as a light-hearted take on the biblical story rather than a mockery of Christian belief, and the complaints were not upheld.

An ad for sofas which featured an image of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, and Sikh verses which had been adapted with lyrics promoting the advertisers' business was found likely to cause serious offence. From this, advertisers should be aware that appropriating significant elements of a faith system is likely to be problematic.


Many expressions are rooted in religious language and advertisers should be aware that their use may prompt complaints, such as concerns that “Oh my God” is blasphemous under a number of different belief systems, particularly Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The ASA will consider the context in which the phrases appear and, where they are used in a secular or non-religious way that does not mock a religion, is unlikely to investigate. Similarly, light-hearted use of words like “sinner” and “temptation” are also unlikely to prompt further action, as long as their use does not mock religious belief.

Incidental references

Some references to religious iconography primarily intend to reference, for example, a location rather than any religious meaning. However, although some religious objects may have non-spiritual significance, they still carry importance for people of faith and care should therefore be taken over their use.

During the 2014 football World Cup the ASA investigated a pair of ads depicting the Christ the Redeemer statue. One for Sporting Index Ltd featured an image of the statue manipulated to show Jesus with his right arm around a bikini-clad woman and holding champagne. Although the ASA understood the intention was a tongue-in-cheek reference to a World Cup location, it was nonetheless likely to cause offence to Christians by depicting Jesus in a context contrary to commonly held beliefs.

In contrast, the ASA did not investigate a travel ad featuring an image of the Hagia Sophia. Although the site had religious significance and the image showed Arabic names for God, the ad promoted its current incarnation as a museum and was not derogatory or insensitive. References to religious art are also unlikely to be problematic, provided that the advertised product, or any attempt at humour, does not touch upon themes contrary to central or sensitive religious beliefs.

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