A TV ad, two VOD ads on All4 and ITV Hub, and a YouTube video for Nike, seen in March 2021:
a. The TV ad featured scenes of mothers and pregnant women doing sporting activities, including surfing, boxing, kick-boxing, playing football, running, weight-lifting and hand cycling, and also featured some professional sportswomen, such as Serena Williams playing on a tennis court with her daughter. There was also a scene showing a woman breast-pumping while attending to her baby, women exercising while taking care of their babies and a pregnant woman in a birthing pool. The voiceover stated, “Can you be an athlete? You, pregnant. You, a mother. That depends. What is an athlete? An athlete. Someone who moves. Sounds like you. Someone who gets it done, no matter what, you do that. Someone who listens to her body, also you. Someone who defies gravity, you. Someone who deals with the pain, hits her limit, and pushes past it. Pushing, pushing, pushing, someone who earns every single win. You, you, you. So, can you be an athlete? If you aren’t, no one is.”
b. the VOD All 4 ad was the same as ad (a).
c. The VOD ITV Hub ad was the same as ad (a).
d. the YouTube ad appeared on Nike’s own channel and was the same as ad (a). The caption stated “The Toughest Athletes | Nike (M)”. The description included the text “Motherhood looks different for everyone. But no matter what you do or how you do it, you are the toughest athlete” and “Nike strives to bring innovation and inspiration to every athlete* in the world. (* If you have a body, you are an athlete.)”.
IssueNine complainants, who understood that some of the activities shown went against recommended health advice for pregnant women and could cause physical harm to mother and unborn baby, challenged whether the ads were irresponsible.
Nike stated that the ad showed the power of women’s bodies and encouraged women to continue moving while pregnant. They had taken the advice of a pre- and postnatal exercise specialist, to ensure the ad was in line with medical guidelines, including specific advice on the positional moves that each woman was shown doing in the ad. Nike said that the people shown in the ad included elite athletes or instructors and the activities that they undertook reflected their daily reality. Nike said that the ad did not encourage pregnant women to take up new sports or physical activities which would prejudice their health and safety, but rather displayed the skills of trained athletes, professionals or amateurs who were pregnant or had become new mothers. They said that there was no suggestion in the ad that pregnant women should take up impactful sports or other rigorous activities that could be dangerous or harmful. They said that people shown in the ad were taking part in their usual activities and levels of exertion, which was in line with NHS Guidance.
Nike considered the ad depicted the power and ability of women to continue moving throughout pregnancy and motherhood and was a celebration of pregnancy and motherhood. It showed images that were not normally seen in advertising, including breast-pumping, real pregnancy bumps, and the reality of how physically tiring pregnancy could be. Clearcast said that the ad was aimed to encourage women to continue exercising while pregnant, safely and responsibly in line with the NHS guidelines. There was no suggestion in the ad that pregnant women should undertake physical activity beyond their personal capabilities and in a way that was likely to encourage behaviour that prejudiced the health or safety of them or their unborn babies. They said that they had received an assurance from Nike that the footage and action was deemed safe by an exercise specialist. Some complainants were concerned that surfing might be dangerous for unborn babies while pregnant if padding on one’s front.
Clearcast responded that surfing while pregnant in the way shown in the ad was safe; neither woman shown surfing was laying on their front and the ad made no suggestion that they had done so. The woman standing on her surfboard was travelling along slowly and had balance and control. Some complainants had objected to the woman shown lying on her back cycling with her arms because they were concerned that this particular exercise put pressure on the stomach muscles and lying on one’s back restricted blood flow which was not advisable for pregnant women. Clearcast referred to the NHS guidance on exercise during pregnancy, which stated that if pregnant women lie on their backs, they should not do so for long periods of time, particularly after 16 weeks. They said that there was no suggestion that the woman, who was a para-athlete, had been on her back on the cycling machine for a long period of time.
Some complainants also expressed concerns about the weight lifting scene because joints and bones were prone to injury during pregnancy and they believed that lifting and straining was not advised during pregnancy. Clearcast responded that weightlifting was safe during pregnancy if done responsibly and in moderation. They said that there was no suggestion that it was recommended for pregnant women to start weightlifting while pregnant with no prior experience. The specialist had advised that the weight-lifting shown in the ad was safely and correctly executed. Some complainants understood that playing contact sports during pregnancy, such as boxing and football, was against recommended health advice. Clearcast responded that there was no indication that the women in the ad were engaging in contact which was likely to harm them or their bump. The two women shown boxing were training against pads; they were not being hit and there was no risk of harm to their bump. The pregnant footballer was passing a ball during training and not playing a full contact game of football. There was no suggestion that she was doing anything other than engaging in a passing drill. They said that NHS guidance recommended that pregnant women did regular exercise and these activities were examples of cardio which would be of benefit to pregnant women under NHS guidance and they were aspects of contact sports which by themselves posed no risk to a woman’s pregnancy bump. They said that the ad made no suggestion that women should partake in full contact matches of football or boxing while pregnant.
Some complainants also pointed to the use of the claims “Someone who deals with the pain, hits her limit, and pushes past it” and “Pushing, pushing, pushing, someone who earns every single win”, which they believed pressured pregnant women to take part in strenuous exercise. Clearcast said the purpose of the voiceover was to liken and compare motherhood to being an athlete and highlighted that in facing pregnancy and motherhood, women already had what it took to be an athlete.
Channel 4 said that they had received one complaint about the ad from a viewer. They said that it was a condition of Channel 4’s licence that ads that it broadcasted were cleared for compliance with the Codes by Clearcast. The ad was run past Clearcast in the usual way and was deemed by them to be in compliance with the Codes and suitable for viewers. ITV said that they had not run the ad on any of their broadcast channels to date, but had run it on their VOD channel, ITV Hub. ITV required that Clearcast approved both their broadcast and VOD advertising and the ad had been approved for both by Clearcast. They did not consider that any of the content in the ad was irresponsible or harmful.
Google said that under the terms agreed to by advertisers, it was the advertiser’s responsibility to abide by applicable law and regulations, including the CAP Code.
The ASA understood the ad showed professional athletes, exercise instructors and amateurs undertaking different physical activities. The ad did not expressly identify that some of the pregnant women were professional sportswomen, and we considered that some viewers would not recognise all the professionals. However, we also considered the ad’s audience would infer that the women featured were all fit and trained individuals who were not new to the sports or exercises they were doing. The ad featured many scenes in quick succession and showed a diverse range of sports and woman enjoying being active. We considered viewers would understand that the scenes and voiceover were intended to draw parallels between taking part in sporting endeavours and the challenges of motherhood.
We considered viewers would understand the ad was intended to encourage pregnant women and mothers who exercised to continue to practice the sports they enjoyed and to feel supported if it was their choice to do so.
We noted the NHS Guidance on exercise during pregnancy and the NHS Start 4 Life Guidance (the NHS Guidance) which stated that if pregnant women were used to doing regular exercise, to keep it up, but to do what felt comfortable for their bodies and not to push themselves too much. The NHS Guidance recommended low-impact exercises for pregnant women, and to avoid doing any activity which was too strenuous. The Guidance also recommended avoiding exercise that involved lying on one’s back for longer than a few minutes, particularly after 16 weeks. The NHS Guidance also stated that contact sports which risked the bump being hit should be avoided, as well as any activities that carried a risk of falling or being thrown off-balance. We noted some complainants’ concerns arose from some of the brief scenes within the ad, which included surfing, weight-lifting, football training and boxing training. However, we considered that viewers would understand from the ad overall that pregnant women could choose to remain active in pregnancy and that those who were already trained in specialist sports or exercises, such as the women featured in the ad, could continue to undertake such activities and seek to achieve their sporting goals, as long as they did so with caution and were comfortable doing so.
Whilst we acknowledged that some of the sports depicted in the ad might in some circumstances involve a risk of falling or being thrown off balance there was nothing in the ad to suggest that the women depicted weren’t exercising well within their capabilities and with appropriate caution. We also noted some complainants believed the ad pressured pregnant women to take part in strenuous exercise. We acknowledged the voiceover stated “Someone who deals with the pain, hits her limit, and pushes past it. Pushing, pushing, pushing, someone who earns every single win. You, you, you. So, can you be an athlete? If you aren’t, no one is”. However, in the context of an ad focused on pregnancy and motherhood, which featured women exercising while looking after their baby, a woman in a birthing pool and a woman breast-pumping, we considered viewers would understand that to be drawing a parallel with labour and the challenges of motherhood, rather than pressure on pregnant women to exercise in a strenuous manner or to increase their existing level of exercise. In addition the ad featured a scene with a pregnant woman running and then stopping to catch her breath, which appeared alongside the statement “Someone who listens to her body”.
We considered that served to reinforce the impression that pregnancy had an impact on the body, but that pregnant women could exercise safely as long as they did so with caution and were aware of their limits, which was in line with NHS Guidance. We considered that the ad was unlikely to encourage pregnant women who were not already engaged in a sport or exercise to take up a new activity, exercise in a strenuous manner or disregard medical advice. For that reason, we concluded that the ad was unlikely to encourage practices which were prejudicial to health and safety; was not irresponsible; and did not breach the Code.
We investigated the non-broadcast ads under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.3 1.3 Advertisements must comply with the law and broadcasters must make that a condition of acceptance. (Social responsibility) and the broadcast ad under BCAP Code rules 1.2 1.2 Advertisements must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to the audience and to society. (Social responsibility) and 4.4 4.4 Advertisements must not include material that is likely to condone or encourage behaviour that prejudices health or safety. (Harm and offence), but did not find them in breach.
No further action required.