Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, one of which was Not upheld and one was Upheld.
An online video ad, which was featured on the Charlton Athletic YouTube channel, for Charlton Athletic Football Club pitch hire in the style of candid CCTV footage showed a man and a woman entering the empty stadium late at night and running onto the pitch. They then appeared to start to have sex in the centre circle of the pitch and after a few seconds the stadium floodlights suddenly turned on. The woman, whose chest was pixellated, sat up and quickly drew her jacket around her. The camera drew back to show the stands, which showed the stadium name "The Valley", and a voice-over then stated "Fancy scoring at The Valley in May? Contact the sales team now to book the pitch for your team".
The complainant, who believed that the ad was sexist and derogatory towards women, and unsuitable for children to view, challenged whether the ad was:
1. offensive; and
2. harmful and irresponsibly targeted.
1. & 2. FL Interactive Ltd t/a Charlton Athletic Football Club (CAFC) stated that their target audience was 20- to 30-year-old males interested in hiring The Valley for their grass roots team during the off season. They said that, having done an analysis of target audience media and social media channels, they felt that the ad would engage with their very specific target audience. They stated that they had an ageing demographic within their fan base and needed to connect with a younger audience to ensure the future commercial sustainability of the club.
CAFC said that they did not accept that the marketing activity was sexist or derogatory towards women, and stated that it was not targeted towards children or released onto any children's platforms. They stated that they used a PR agency to engage target audience media partners such as The Lad Bible and FHM. They said that it was not their intention to cause offence or harm, or to act in an irresponsible manner, and that this had been a purely targeted campaign for a specific audience.
CAFC stated that a small extract of the clip that had been shared on Vine had received over eight million views, and that they had received nine complaints from their season ticket holders. However, they noted that these complainants had renewed their season tickets despite their complaints and that this indicated they were not offended or harmed.
YouTube stated that the ad did not violate the Community Guidelines applicable to video content uploaded by site members to user channels on their platform and confirmed that they had not received any complaints about the ad directly.
1. Not Upheld
The ASA noted that the ad featured sexual activity, with the implication that the woman was partially dressed, and that the phrase "score at The Valley" referred both to scoring a football goal at CAFC's ground and a euphemism for sex. We also noted that the woman was seen to initiate the break-in to the stadium and was not seen as a passive or unwilling participant, and understood that the euphemism 'score' related to sexual success by either gender. We therefore considered that the woman's role in the ad was not gratuitous and that she was not objectified. We acknowledged that the humour in the ad largely derived from the woman's unintentional public nudity, but noted that this resulted from her decision to break into the stadium and was likely to be understood as embarrassing rather than derogatory. Although we acknowledged that the humour, including the invitation to 'score' at the stadium, may be considered distasteful by some viewers, we concluded that the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence on the grounds of sexism.
On this point we investigated the ad under 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) but did not find it in breach.
The ASA considered that because the content of the ad was of a sexual nature it was therefore unsuitable for children and that care should therefore be taken to prevent it from appearing in places where children might view it. We acknowledged CAFC's statements that they had targeted the ad through selection of media aimed at adult males. However, the ad had also appeared on CAFC's YouTube channel. We noted that the majority of videos appearing on the channel comprised match footage and interviews with players and fans (including children), and considered that the channel was likely to attract children who were fans of the club. Because the ad had appeared in a place where children might see it we concluded that the ad had been irresponsibly targeted.
On this point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.3 1.3 Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society. (Social responsibility).
The ad must not appear again in its current form on the Charlton Athletic Football Club YouTube channel or other untargeted media. We told FL Interactive Ltd to ensure that future ads that were unsuitable for viewing by children were appropriately targeted.