Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
A paid-for display ad for Banter King, an online novelty goods retailer, seen on 27 April 2021 in the Sky Sports app, featured images of several mugs, three of which stated “COCK HUNGRY WHORE”, “MY SON IS A CUNT HE GETS IT FROM HIS FATHER” and “LIVE LAUGH TOSSER”.
The complainant challenged whether the ad was:
1. likely to cause serious or widespread offence; and
2. irresponsibly targeted.
Banter Group Ltd told us that they had not intended to cause offence. They said that they would be stricter on how and where they placed ads in the future, and had also disabled any products with potentially offensive aspects from appearing on their ads. They did not explain what measures they had taken to target the ad.
Sky told us that it was not an ad they would normally allow on their platform, and that it had not been shown because of a proactive scheduling decision. They explained that they had tried to ensure the Sky Sports app only carried suitable advertising by utilising a strong block list and having rules in place across their ad server and third-party vendors, which were designed to prevent unsuitable or offensive ads from appearing. They also told us that they carried out weekly manual checks on ads on their platforms, and removed inappropriate content when they became aware of it.
However, they explained that despite those controls occasionally content that did not meet their standards could get through their filters, which had happened in this case. They explained that could occur where ads came through under masked URLs, bypassing their blocks, or where the ads were based on a user’s cookies, cache, or their search history.
Sky told us that after being made aware of the complaint they had blocked several URLs from Banter Group, meaning that ads from those URLs would no longer be shown across their sites.
Sky also told us that they had not received any direct complaints about the specific ad.
1. & 2. Upheld
The Code required marketers to avoid causing serious or widespread offence, and to ensure that ads were appropriately targeted. We acknowledged Banter Groups assurance that they had taken steps to prevent products with the potential to cause offence from appearing in ads in the future.
However, consumer research by the ASA and others showed the use of the words such as 'cunt' was so likely to offend, that they should not be used at all in marketing communications even if they were relevant to the product, unless very carefully targeted to an audience that was unlikely to be offended by them.
We further considered that the words ‘cock’ and ‘whore’ were strong swear words that were also likely to cause serious offence to a general audience.
The Sky Sports app was rated as having content suitable for all ages, and we considered it was likely to appeal to a broad audience. The advertiser provided no information on how they targeted their advertising, or if they used interest-based criteria when doing so.
We therefore concluded that the ad was likely to cause serious or widespread offence, and had not been responsibly targeted.
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: age; disability; gender; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; and sexual orientation. 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 the form complained about. We told Banter Group Ltd to take care to avoid causing serious or widespread offence in future and to ensure their ads were appropriately targeted.