Identical video ads on the website www.mulberry.com and on YouTube, seen in November 2015, promoted Mulberry handbags. Both ads showed a man giving a woman a Mulberry handbag as a gift in scenes reminiscent of the Christmas Nativity story.
Forty-two complainants challenged whether the ad was offensive to Christians because it replaced the baby Jesus with a handbag. The complainants objected that it undermined central messages of their faith; that the important scene was being used for the purpose of consumerism; and that it was blasphemous.
Mulberry acknowledged that offence was a subjective concept. They believed the video was a light hearted reference to the Nativity scene, in keeping with the run up to Christmas time and the gift of a handbag for a loved one. They believed the comment made by the man – "Guys, it's just a bag" – made it clear that no comparison with the baby Jesus was intended. They said the video was available only on their website, Facebook page and on YouTube, and a link to it had been included in emails to customers who had given their consent to receive marketing material.
They believed the Nativity scene was a recognisable and central concept to British society. As such, they believed it was legitimate for a British company to use the scene in a way that would be recognisable by their customers and which reflected the humour of the brand, and the fun and excitement of Christmas time. Given that context, they did not believe the video would cause serious or widespread offence. They noted the number of times the ad had been viewed on their website, Facebook page and on YouTube, and the number of positive responses they had received.
YouTube said they had reviewed the video and had found that it did not violate the Community Guidelines or Advertising Policies which applied to video content uploaded by site members. They said the ad had been placed via AdWords, a self-administered system where it was Mulberry's responsibility to choose appropriate targeting of their ads and that it was the advertiser's responsibility to ensure ads complied with applicable law and regulations, including the CAP Code.
The ASA noted that the ad was based on the bible story of the birth of the baby Jesus in a stable, and the visits by the shepherds and the wise men bearing gifts. We noted that the ad had appeared in the month before Christmas and that the complainants had found the use of religious references for commercial aims offensive. We noted that the ad began with the man giving the woman a gift with the words, "I know we weren't doing presents this year, but …", which we considered suggested a modern-day, present-giving context for what followed. Later on, after the shepherds and 'wise men' had admired the bag, the man said, "Guys, it's only a bag", which we considered was likely to be interpreted by viewers as referring to the playful and ridiculous nature of the comparison with the Nativity story, and was more likely to be seen as a humorous reference to consumerism than ridiculing the story. We acknowledged that the ad might not be to everyone's taste, but considered most viewers would understand it as a light hearted take on the Nativity story, intended to poke fun at the effect of consumerism on Christmas rather than mocking or denigrating Christian belief. Because of that, we considered the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.
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.
No further action necessary.