Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
An outdoor poster for the “Smash the Stigma” campaign from the charity GIRLvsCANCER, seen in October 2023. The ad featured a close-up image of a woman’s torso, as she held one of her breasts in her hand, with her arm obscuring her other breast. The top of her other hand was placed between her legs. Large white text the length of the image stated “CANCER WON’T BE THE LAST THING THAT F*CKS ME”. Text at the bottom of the poster stated the charity’s name. Further text at the bottom right of the image, next to a QR code, stated “SMASH THE STIGMA”.
Two complainants challenged whether the ad was:
1. likely to cause serious or widespread offence; and
2. inappropriate for display in an untargeted medium.
1 & 2. GIRLvsCANCER said that the ad had intended to represent the real-life experience of women regarding sex and cancer, and the emotions they had experienced. They accepted that this might have made some people feel uncomfortable, but did not believe the ad was likely to cause serious or widespread offence. GIRLvsCANCER said that the imagery in the ad had been carefully crafted so that both of the model’s breasts had been covered, and no other body parts beyond her main torso were visible.
GIRLvsCANCER said they took matters of social responsibility seriously. They believed raising awareness of the issues the ad addressed showed a wider sense of societal responsibility, by representing the views and experiences of an under-represented section of society. They did not think the language or images used in the ad had been gratuitous, but rather were relevant to the lived experiences and issues faced by many women with cancer. They felt the use of the word “fuck” was in-keeping with and necessary for the campaign message and creative execution, and re-iterated that the ad had been based on close collaboration with the women whose stories they were conveying.
They wanted the ad to spark conversations about how women felt during and after diagnosis and treatment for cancer, because they believed encouraging people to talk was the most effective way to enact change. They said the model, and all other models in the wider campaign were cancer survivors or those currently with cancer, who they had worked with to portray their stories in a way which reflected their experiences.
Build Hollywood, the media owner, said that the ad had been removed by the time they were made aware of the complaint. They thought that the ad touched on an important topic which was too often perceived to be a taboo subject, and deserved to be highlighted and talked about openly. They said they had not intended to offend viewers, but rather to educate them, as well as support the cancer community and reduce stigma surrounding the issue. They said that due to the subject matter depicted in the ad, the poster had not been distributed within 100 m of a school. They confirmed that had not received any direct complaints.
1. & 2.Upheld
The CAP Code required marketers to avoid causing serious or widespread offence.
The ASA acknowledged that the wording of the ad did not explicitly use the word “FUCKS”. However, we considered that the use of an asterisk to obscure the letter “U” in the ad meant that viewers were likely to understand the word as a reference to the expletive “fuck”. We noted the context in which the word appeared, and that the full text stated “CANCER WON’T BE THE LAST THING THAT F*CKS ME” which we considered viewers would understand to be an allusion to a colloquial term for sexual intercourse. We considered that the combination of the image of the woman holding her breast with her other hand placed between her legs, alongside the text, further contributed to that impression. Because of that, we also considered viewers were likely to interpret the images in the ad as depicting sexual behaviour in an explicit manner.
We acknowledged GIRLvsCANCER’s comments that the ad was meant to represent the lived experience of women who had, or who had survived, cancer, and had been created to raise awareness of the subject. We also acknowledged their belief that the imagery and language used in the ad had been carefully chosen and was not gratuitous. However, we considered that “fuck” was a word so likely to offend that it should not generally be used or alluded to in advertising, even if viewers would understand that the ads were intended to raise awareness of women’s experience with cancer. We further considered that, within the context of the ad, the image was sufficiently sexually explicit to be likely to offend viewers.
For those reasons we concluded that the ad was likely to cause serious and widespread offence, and was therefore also inappropriate for display in an untargeted medium where it could be seen by children.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.3 (Social responsibility) and rule 4.1 (Harm and offence).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained about. We told GIRLvsCANCER to take care to avoid causing serious or widespread offence in future, and to ensure their ads were appropriately targeted.