An ad, for Paddy Power, seen in the Metro. It featured the text "WHO'S THE BEST MASS DEBATER? CLEGG 6/4 FARAGE 1/2 ..." and photographs of Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage with suggestive facial expressions.
Two complainants, who understood that the ad alluded to masturbation, challenged whether it was offensive.
Paddy Power explained that the ad had appeared in a newspaper targeted at adult commuters and was intended to link in with a specific event, a live debate between the two politicians featured that was due to take place later the same day, and promote the fact that they offered odds on who would win the debate. They acknowledged that the ad made use of a double entendre. The literal meaning was innocent and straightforward, playing on the basis that both parties were mass debaters, but there was also a hidden adult meaning. In their view, the ad was light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek, intended to generate interest around the forthcoming debate in a humorous and irreverent way. They pointed out that no explicit language or imagery was used.
Paddy Power acknowledged that the ad might be seen as distasteful by some readers and believed, from the number of complaints, widespread offence had not been caused. They regretted, however, that two readers had been offended.
Associated News, owners of the Metro, said Metro readers were young, intelligent, professional workers who, they believed, would interpret the ad as a humorous way to highlight the Clegg v Farage live TV debate, on which they could place a bet. They had received no complaints directly.
The ASA noted the ad appeared in a newspaper aimed at an adult audience, in the context of two TV debates between the two politicians featured. Adult readers of the Metro were likely to recognise the ad as a reference to betting on the evening's forthcoming debate and, although there were no explicit references to masturbation, they would understand the double meaning of the text and facial expressions.
We understood that the advertisers had intended to convey their service in a light-hearted way and considered that readers would regard the ad as an attempt at humour on the part of Paddy Power. We also considered that readers might not share the advertisers' humour and find the ad to be disrespectful and in poor taste.
Marketing communications must not contain anything likely to cause serious or widespread offence. We acknowledged the complainants' views, and considered that many readers may have found the choice of text and images to be distasteful. Given the context in which it appeared, however, we concluded that the ad was unlikely to cause offence to a serious or widespread degree.
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.