A banner ad, which appeared to a guest member on the dating site www.gaydar.co.uk, featured various images of naked men engaged in sexual acts. One showed a man with an erection. Text stated "BAITBUS.COM" and "STRAIGHT GUYS TRICKED INTO GAY SEX".
The complainant challenged whether the ad was offensive and unsuitable for a dating website.
BangBros.com.Inc, trading as Bait Bus (Bait Bus), stated that the website www.gaydar.co.uk was an adult dating site on which gay men and couples sought to find sexual partners. They pointed out that the site allowed members to post explicit photos on their profiles, while noting that the most explicit of these could only be seen by those who had paid a subscription fee. They said the profiles on the site also included space for members to list their preferred sexual positions and whether or not they had been circumcised, and there was a mobile phone dating application which allowed members to find nearby men interested in meeting up while they were travelling. They submitted a number of screenshots of the site and the mobile phone application. Bait Bus considered that the ad was more than appropriate for display on the website, given the adult content available on the rest of the site. They stated that, although they did not agree that the ad was unsuitable for the medium, they had since removed it from the Gaydar website.
QSoft Consulting Ltd, trading as Gaydar (Gaydar), pointed out that the ad would only have been shown to registered users of the site, who according to their terms and conditions would have to be aged 18 or over. They questioned whether, in that context, the ad was offensive or simply distasteful in nature. They explained that non-paying, guest members were not shown "XXX" rated content within user profiles, but that all members would see the same banner advertising. They said they had a set of creative specifications to which advertising on the site should adhere. Owing to the volume of advertising they ran, ads which did not meet those specifications were occasionally accepted in error, but when a user brought such a case to their attention they would remove it from the site. Their specifications precluded images of erections or penetration. Gaydar said they had now taken down the ad for Bait Bus because it did not conform to their specifications, but stressed that those specifications were designed to ensure that advertising met with their users' tastes and did not mean that the ad was indecent.
The ASA noted that the ad contained overtly sexual content. We therefore considered that it required very careful targeting to avoid causing offence to those who viewed it. We acknowledged that the ad was only shown to registered users of the website, and that the website contained content of an adult nature. However, we noted that the site offered both free "guest" and payable "member" account types to its users, and that those with guest accounts were not able to see explicit photos or videos, rated by the site as "XXX", on other users' profiles unless they upgraded to a full, paying, membership. We understood that the ad had appeared to both types of user on the Gaydar website. We also noted that advertising on the site would not generally display images of the nature seen in the ad, because of Gaydar's internal policies.
Although we accepted that the site made provision for user profiles to contain information of an adult nature, we understood that the general user experience of a guest member of the site would not include exposure to images of the explicit nature shown in the ad. We also considered that the text "STRAIGHT GUYS TRICKED INTO GAY SEX", because it implied non-consensual behaviour, carried threatening and violent undertones and for that reason would be likely to cause serious offence.
We viewed the images in the ad as being sufficiently explicit to be likely to cause serious offence, and we understood that they did not appear against an established context of similar content on the site for guest users. Because of that, and because we considered the text to be also likely to offend, we concluded that the ad was likely to cause serious offence to some guest users and that it had been inappropriately targeted to appear to guest members of Gaydar. We welcomed the assurances from both Bait Bus and Gaydar that the ad had been removed.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) 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.