A press ad for the Ginger Pop Shop seen in the Purbeck Gazette in June 2016 included text which stated “Visit our shop and get the tea-towel!” and featured an illustration of a ‘golly’ character holding a pint of ginger beer with text underneath stating “ENGLISH FREEDOM”.
Two complainants, who believed the depiction of the ‘golly’ character was racist, objected that the ad was offensive
Ginger Pop Ltd said they did not accept that the golliwog represented negative racial stereotypes. They provided information about the history of the golliwog character, including his origins in a children’s book in the late nineteenth century. They provided a copy of that book and a sequel, with quotes about his origin from the author. They also provided a modern edition of a Noddy Book and ‘The Golly’, a collectors’ handbook, which showed the variety of golly memorabilia available. They also provided a letter from a supporter and a comments book from their shop, which they said showed that the vast majority of passers-by were positive about the fact they sold golliwogs in their shop. They referred to two online videos they had uploaded about golliwogs. They believed the character as depicted in the original books and on Robertson’s marmalade badges was heroic and was an aspirational role model. They acknowledged the character had become stereotyped over time which they said had led some to believe the character was negative. They also said that he was not intended to be seen as a human character but as a magical being, and that many people of all backgrounds had golly toys as children. They supplied a tea-towel which they had produced to celebrate 120 years of golliwogs, which included many adjectives to describe the character and which they were said were far removed from the minstrel doll stereotype.
The Purbeck Gazette said they had checked the legality of the ad and image prior to running it and had been advised that it was within the law. They had not directly received any complaints about the ad. However, they did not intend to run similar ads until the ASA investigation was resolved and did not wish to risk offending their readership.
The ASA understood that there had been some local controversy around the tea-towel produced by Ginger Pop for display and sale in their shop, and that the ad was a reference to that. However, we did not consider that all readers would be aware of that background, or that such awareness would necessarily impact on their reaction to the ad.
The Code required marketers to ensure that ads did not contain anything that was likely to cause serious or widespread offence, and particular care must be taken to avoid causing offence on various grounds, including race. We noted that the ad featured an image which was recognisably a golly character. We considered that many people were likely to view the character as representing negative racial stereotypes, and its prominent inclusion in a press ad was likely to cause serious or widespread offence. We also considered that the inclusion of the words “ENGLISH FREEDOM” in the ad was likely to contribute to that offence, because in combination with the image it could be read as a negative reference to immigration or race. We therefore concluded that the ad was likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
The ad breached 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).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained of