Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
An outdoor poster ad for the Channel 4 television program ‘The End of the Fucking World’, seen in October 2019, featured the text “THE END OF THE F*****G WORLD”. The Channel Four logo was placed below, followed by the text “This November” underneath. The ad was placed in a street close to the Excel Centre in London.
The complainant challenged whether the ad was:
1. likely to cause serious or widespread offence; and
2. inappropriate for outdoor display where it might be seen by children.
Channel Four Television Corporation said that the ad was directed at a specific audience because it was near the Excel Centre in London, where the MCM Comic-Con Exhibition was being held and where the programme was featured. They said the word “fucking” was commonly known to adults and because it was part of a title for a programme directed towards adults, would be known to those who passed the ad on their visit to the Excel Centre. They had redacted the show title, presenting it as “The End of the F******g World” in the ad. Channel Four believed the ad was unlikely to cause any serious or widespread offence because the asterisks masked almost all of the word which gave it a less offensive presentation. They did not think that the word had been used provocatively, in a violent or sexual context, or in an aggressive manner. They maintained that the ad was justified because it concerned the title of a TV programme. Channel Four said they had received a complaint from the local council shortly after the banners were installed, and that they were taken down on the same day because they wanted to maintain good relations with the council.
Bay Media, who noted the ad referred to the second season launch of a popular TV show, stated that, while the ad included a swear word, it was not displayed prominently and an effort had been made to mitigate the impact of that word. Bay Media provided details of their internal approval process and said they would review it in future to ensure it worked effectively, including taking account of any CAP Copy Advice related to that campaign.
1. & 2. Upheld
The ASA noted that despite being aimed at those who were attending the MCM Comic-Con Exhibition, the ad was displayed on a street and therefore visible to anyone who passed by, including children. We acknowledged that the word “fucking” had been partly obscured with asterisks, but we considered that, when presented as “F*****G”, the meaning of the word was still clear. Because we considered the ad was likely to be seen as referring to a swear word that many would find offensive, and appeared in an untargeted context, we considered that the ad was likely to result in serious and widespread offence and was inappropriate for outdoor display where it could be seen by children. We therefore found the ad in breach of the Code.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.3 (Social Responsibility) and 4.1 (Harm and offence).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained about. We told Channel Four Television Corporation to ensure they avoided causing serious or widespread offence by, for example, avoiding references to expletives in media targeted to a general audience which included children.