Summary of Council decision:
Three issues were investigated of which two were Upheld and one was Not Upheld.
A national press ad for Fathers4Justice, seen on Friday 16 March 2012 was headlined "Say it with hate this Mother's Day". The ad showed a picture of a toddler with various negative words written all over his body including pig, rioter, wife beater, etc. Text stated "Fathers4Justice are writing to all advertisers this Mother's Day to inform them that the Mumsnet web site carries abusive and distressing anti-male content which promotes gender hatred against men and boys. We believe that the general sexist labelling of men and boys as 'rapists', 'paedophiles' and 'wife beaters' is as unacceptable and offensive as racism and homophobia. Fathers4Justice are asking advertisers to suspend their advertising on Mumsnet until founder Justine Roberts adopts a zero tolerance policy to gender hatred. Promote a message of love, not hate this Mother's Day. Join our boycott of Mumsnet at ...".
Ten people complained about the ad.
1. Eight of the complainants challenged whether the claim "Mumsnet web site carries abusive and distressing anti-male content which promotes gender hatred against men and boys" was misleading and could be substantiated.
2. Three of the complainants also challenged whether the claim that Mumsnet had unfairly generalised men and boys as rapists, paedophiles and wife beaters was misleading and could be substantiated.
3. Five of the complainants also challenged whether the picture of the toddler with various derogatory remarks written over his body was offensive.
1. & 2. Fathers4Justice (F4J) said in their view the ad underplayed the seriousness and gravity of the content they had seen on Mumsnet and supplied the ASA with a number of screenshots of the Mumsnet website which they believed was evidence of highly offensive anti-male gender hatred. They said that they had complained about the content to Mumsnet and asked them to remove this content and commit to a zero tolerance policy on gender hatred but Mumsnet had refused and only some of the content was removed. As such, F4J believed that Mumsnet were responsible for such content.
F4J said that abusive, anti-male content continued to be posted on the site and considered that highlighting this was a matter of public interest and that the ad was an entirely legitimate way of raising this matter.
3. F4J said that the complainants who had been offended by the ad were not familiar with Photoshop, which had been used to create the ad.
1. & 2. Upheld
The ASA noted the response from F4J who understood that Mumsnet were responsible for posts written by users on the website's forums. We also noted however that F4J had not sent us anything to suggest that Mumsnet endorsed any of the views expressed on its web forums or any editorial content from the Mumsnet website to suggest that the website owners themselves harboured or promoted gender hatred against men or boys. We also considered that the claim "the general sexist labelling of men and boys as 'rapists', 'paedophiles' and 'wife beaters' is as unacceptable and offensive as racism and homophobia" in the context of the ad implied that Mumsnet themselves had unfairly generalised men and boys in this way in their editorial content and yet we noted that F4J had also not provided us with any evidence to suggest that this was the case.
On points 1. & 2., the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation).
3. Not upheld
We noted the complainants' concerns about the image used in the ad. However, we considered that in the context of the ad it was clear what message F4J were trying to convey by using it, i.e. that the image was supposed to visually represent unfair and offensive labelling of men. While we understood that the image had caused some distress to the complainants, we concluded that it was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence
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 ad must not appear again in its current form. We asked F4J not to imply that forum postings on Mumsnet's website indicated endorsement or support from the website itself.