An ad on the home page of www.firebox.com, featured a product entitled the "UNT Mug" and showed a picture of the mug, which had a C-shaped handle and the letters UNT printed after it.
The complaint challenged whether the ad was likely to cause serious offence.
Firebox.com Ltd said the image referred to a product being sold on their ecommerce website and the C-shaped handle was the same shape as for regular mugs in the UK. They said the mug was a best-selling product and, therefore, regularly featured on their home page and product feeds. They said the product was fun, humorous and cheeky and did not cause offence. If consumers were offended by the product, they could choose not to visit their website in future. They said that they had not marketed the product in e-mail communications or advertised it more widely than the website, but over 325,000 people had viewed the product page directly, 19,000 people had shared the product through social media likes and 8 million people had viewed their home page since it's launch. They explained that the product could only be found via search engines if the specific name was searched for and they did not advertise it in any generic way.
THIS ADJUDICATION REPLACES THAT PUBLISHED ON 16 JULY. THE WORDING OF THE ASSESSMENT HAS CHANGED BUT THE DECISION TO UPHOLD THE COMPLAINT REMAINS.
The ASA considered that the product listing was an ad which fell within the remit of the CAP Code. We understood that the product in question could be purchased directly from the website and therefore considered the product listing to be directly connected with the supply or transfer of goods and that the content therefore fell within the remit of the Code.
The full expletive had not been spelt out and, instead, used the handle of the mug to create the impression of the "C". However, the handle was painted black and matched the "UNT" letters on the mug, contrasting the white background. We considered consumers would therefore understand that the intended meaning of the "UNT" letters placed next to the "C" shaped handle was to spell "CUNT"; especially as the product was entitled the "UNT Mug". While, in the context of an online shop, it was likely that the ad would be mostly viewed by adults rather than by children, we considered that a clear allusion to the word 'cunt' was likely to offend and, therefore, marketing communications should only market products that contain expletives or words, or allusions to expletives or words that were likely to cause serious or widespread offence if they had given a clear and prominent warning on their website to potential viewers. We concluded the ad was likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society.
(Responsible advertising) 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 in its current form. We told Firebox.com Ltd to ensure that future marketing communications that market products containing expletives or words, or allusions to expletives or words, that were likely to cause serious or widespread offence, were given a clear and prominent warning on their website to potential viewers.