A magazine ad, for Stripper Propeller Protector, appeared in Yachting Monthly. It included the product name and an image of a mermaid, who was naked from the waist up.
The complainant challenged whether the ad was likely to cause serious or widespread offence, in particular because she believed it was demeaning to women.
Ambassador Marine said they had used the same image for many years without complaint. They said the image was obviously not a woman but a mermaid, which readers would understand was an imaginary character. They said the mermaid had not previously been confused with a woman and the product carried a registered trademark. It was called the Stripper because it stripped fouling material from propellers, as did the imaginary mermaid who was shown unwinding rope from a fouled propeller. They said they had in the past included the registered trademark symbol in their advertising and would be happy to do so again in future.
Yachting Monthly said similar images had appeared in their magazine, and in other publications, for some time. They said they were aware of only one previous complaint received about the ad appearing in Yachting Monthly. They said the depiction of the mermaid was a typical one, which was iconic and familiar from seafaring art, literature, folklore and culture. They said in nautical folklore the mermaid was portrayed as a temptress or siren but was also said to help mariners in distress by, for example, releasing snagged nets and freeing tangled ropes. Yachting Monthly believed the ad made reference to both themes and that the image was relevant to the product. They believed the ad was not likely to cause serious or widespread offence to their readers.
The ASA acknowledged the product's name was Stripper, as a result of its properties for cleaning propellers, and considered readers of Yachting Monthly were likely to have an understanding of its nature. We also acknowledged the ad was stylised and that mermaids were imaginary characters associated with nautical culture. However, we noted that the mermaid, which was a character known to be half human female, was shown with her breasts entirely exposed. We considered that was not directly relevant to the product being advertised and that the image, in conjunction with the product name, was therefore likely to be seen as sexist and demeaning to women by using their physical features to draw attention to the ad. We concluded that the ad was likely to cause serious offence to some readers of Yachting Monthly.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule
Marketing communications must not contain anything that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Particular care must be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age. Compliance will be judged on the context, medium, audience, product and prevailing standards.
Marketing communications may be distasteful without necessarily breaching this rule. Marketers are urged to consider public sensitivities before using potentially offensive material.
The fact that a product is offensive to some people is not grounds for finding a marketing communication in breach of the Code. (Harm and offence).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Ambassador Marine to ensure their future advertising did not contain anything that was likely to cause serious or widespread offence.