A national press ad for Paddy Power, which appeared in the Sport section of the Guardian, featured odds on the candidates for the 2015 FIFA presidential election. An image showed Sepp Blatter revealing the winner by holding up a piece of paper which said "ME". Text at the top of the ad stated, "JUST F**K OFF ALREADY!"
The complainant challenged whether the use of the word "F**K" was likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
Paddy Power plc said the headline of the ad was in keeping with their brand's distinctive voice. It was designed to reflect what they understood to be the overwhelming sentiment felt by football fans around the globe that Sepp Blatter should resign as FIFA President in the wake of the numerous arrests of his FIFA colleagues on suspicion of corruption.
Paddy Power acknowledged that “F**K” was a reference to a word which could be deemed offensive. They said they had used a less offensive presentation, with asterisks masking half of the word to reduce the potential for it to cause offence.
They said the ad had appeared in the Guardian, which was a newspaper targeted at adult readers, and they believed that the Guardian's readership was unlikely to be offended by the word.
Paddy Power said they had not received any complaints about the ad directly, and the response to the ad placed on social media had been extremely positive. They said the ad was light hearted and tongue-in-cheek. It was intended to generate interest and reflect public sentiment in respect of the FIFA corruption scandal in a humorous and irreverent way.
The Guardian said before publishing the ad they considered whether their Sport section readers would find the ad offensive and had decided that that was highly unlikely. They said the section had an adult readership, as did the paper as a whole, and that the section's articles frequently contained swear words in the course of reporting on sport and sportspeople. As a result, they were confident that their Sport section readership was accustomed to seeing swear words within the section and that their readers were not generally offended by the kind of allusion to the f-word that featured in the ad, which they said was used for comic effect.
The ASA noted that the word "F**K" was partly obscured by asterisks, but acknowledged that the meaning of the word was still clear.
We noted that the ad appeared in the Sport section of the Guardian, which we understood had an adult readership and frequently contained swear words. We considered that readers of that section were likely to understand that the ad was intended to be a light hearted comment on the ongoing allegations of corruption within FIFA, and in particular the controversy surrounding Sepp Blatter's tenure as FIFA president. In that context, we considered the use of "F**K" was unlikely to cause offence to readers.
Because we did not consider the ad would be offensive to those who were likely to see it, we concluded that it 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.