A brochure featuring an ad for Atlas Arms, a firearms dealer, seen on 24 April 2018, advertised guns and knives. A page titled “Special Offer” featured images of various guns including air and sniper rifles, handguns and accessories such as cartridges and steel BBs, and the corresponding price for each item. The items included “BLACK OPS SNIPER RIFLE… £250 RRP £269.95 INCLUDES FREE PELLETS” and a handgun “KWC 24/7 4.5MM £50 RRP. £69.95”. A red banner in the centre of the page stated “MUST BE OVER 18 WITH PROOF I.D.”, and text at the top and bottom of the page stated “FREE GIFT ON OFFERS OVER £100” and “FREE LOCAL DELIVERY STRAIGHT TO YOUR DOOR ON ORDERS OVER £100”. A second page also titled “Special Offer” showed images of various knifes with their corresponding prices, including machetes and folding knives, with offers including “LONG REACH MACHETE £15” and “Black Laced Knife £4”. The page also stated “MUST BE OVER 18 WITH PROOF I.D.” and “PHOTO I.D. WILL BE REQUIRED ON DELIVERY”.
The complainant, who had received the brochure through the letterbox at their home in Sheffield, challenged whether the ad was offensive and irresponsible.
Atlas Arms said the ads displayed an image of each item and its name and price, and all the items were inanimate objects without any connotations likely to cause offence on the grounds of factors such as religion, sexual orientation or age. They said the ads did not depict any scenario for which the items would be used, other than an image of a target in one of the offers for air pistol accessories, which was the intended use of the featured air pistols.
Atlas Arms said the ad was aimed at people over the age of 18, and they ensured that all customers were 18 years at minimum, and requested photo I.D. of people from all ages. They said approximately 1,000 leaflets were delivered by a third-party company, who chose the starting postcode area in Sheffield.
Atlas Arms said that no firearms were advertised in the advert, which only included air rifles and pistols, and they were a Registered Firearms Dealer which allowed them to sell such items. They said no special permits were required to sell knives, and highlighted that many hardware shops on the high street sold knives.
The CAP Code required that marketing communications were prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and society, and must not contain anything likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
The ASA understood that it was legal to sell and advertise the weapons which featured in the ad. We acknowledged the ad stated prominently that customers must be at over 18 years to buy the items, and photo ID was required. However, the ad was distributed via a door drop to people’s homes on the basis of their postcode, and was not contained in an addressed envelope. Because the brochure for weapons could therefore be viewed by any person at those addresses, including children, we considered it was unsuitable for an untargeted medium and irresponsible in that respect.
We noted that at the top of each page the ad featured large images of an air rifle with the statement “SPECIAL OFFER”, and a 20-inch “PREDATOR” machete with the claim “SPECIAL OFFER…£30”. Smaller images of other decorative knives were displayed, including a gold folding knife priced £20, titled “BALLISTIC”, a “JOKER” knife with a pink handle priced £15, and a “SKULL” knife with black and white images of human skulls on the handle, priced £6. In the context of an untargeted medium, we considered that the presentation of large images of the air rifle and machete in the ad alongside promotional messaging, and the decorative nature and titles of some of the items, contributed to the likelihood of the ad causing offence to consumers. We also considered that the decorative knives featured in the ad were likely to be different to the functional knives and blades that consumers typically saw in high street shops.
Additionally, the ad featuring guns and knives had been delivered directly into people’s homes, during a climate of widely reported concerns about rising levels of violent crime, in particular knife crime, both nationally and in Sheffield. Therefore in that context, we considered those factors also contributed to the ad being likely to cause offence to consumers.
For the reasons outlined above, we concluded that the ad was likely to cause serious and widespread offence, and was irresponsible because of the manner it was distributed in an untargeted medium, and therefore that it breached the Code.
The ad breached CAP Code rules
Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society.
(Social responsibility) and
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 Atlas Arms to ensure that future marketing communications did not contain anything likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Future ads featuring weapons must also be prepared responsibly, and must not be distributed in an untargeted medium.