A Video on Demand (VOD) ad for Salesforce, seen on All4 on 4 May 2021, began with a voiceover, stating, "And now, a mini meditation". It then featured a woman working from home, trying to focus on her job despite her noisy home environment. The voiceover continued, “Inhale serenity, exhale whatever’s happening here. Now bring your focus back to your customer, Tom”. The woman was then shown starting to levitate off her chair, in the lotus position, saying the name “Tom” in an extended fashion, with a long ‘Om’ sound. The still-levitating woman then drifted out of the house, to a peaceful woodland setting, to carry on communicating with her customer online.
IssueThree complainants, who believed that the ad mimicked a spiritual practice, in particular through the use of the elongated ‘Om’ sound within the name ‘Tom’, challenged whether it was likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
Salesforce told us the ad was intended to be a humorous, non-religious portrayal of yoga and meditation, and was not intended to depict any specific religious group. They said they did not believe the ad would cause serious or widespread offence to viewers in general, or viewers of a particular faith.
In relation to the use of the elongated ‘Om’ sound, Salesforce said that their research and understanding of the word indicated that it had been widely adopted as the unofficial symbol of yoga, and was increasingly associated with yoga, meditation and the wellbeing movement. They told us that they believed the use of the ‘Om’ sound to be a common practice in non-religious yoga lessons. Salesforce said that they do not view the use of ‘Om’ in their ad as depicting a sacred symbol or tenet of any faith, but rather as an aid to meditation, which they considered to be part of everyday usage of the word.
They told us that the ad did not reference or seek to imitate any specific religious imagery or symbolism, did not have any direct reference to religion, and was not mocking or derogatory.
While Salesforce acknowledged the need to show care and attention when using symbols or images that could have associations with religion, they believed the ad’s language separated the visual content from any specific religious faith or practice. They further said that they believed the language used in the ad to be neutral and designed to poke gentle fun at the wellness industry, rather than be dismissive or disrespectful of any religion.Channel 4 said that it was their standard operating procedure for all commercials broadcast on All4 to be sent to Clearcast for BCAP/CAP approval and advice. They said this ad had been Clearcast approved with no additional scheduling restrictions.
They also said that they understood that meditation was not solely practiced for religious and spiritual reasons, but also to help people practice mindfulness. They said they felt that the lead character in the ad depicted meditation in a positive manner, as it allowed them to focus on their customer amid a chaotic domestic scene.
Clearcast said that while they recognised meditation had a base in spirituality, they understood that it was not solely practiced for spiritual or religious reasons and was also used to develop mindfulness techniques, and skills such as attention and awareness. They said they viewed the ad as portraying meditation in a positive way, by helping the lead character to focus, despite the hectic background environment.
Clearcast also stated that they understood the elongated ‘Om’ sound to be part of the name ‘Tom’, and not specifically a use of the word ‘Om’. They did not feel the ad was negative or demeaning to any particular religion and did not believe that it would be likely to cause widespread offence, which they felt was reflected in the low number of complaints received.
The ASA noted that the ad was set in the context of a busy home-working environment, and considered viewers would understand that the character was attempting to relieve her stress and combat distraction by using techniques widely associated with yoga and meditation.
We acknowledged the complainants’ concerns that some people might have objected to the depiction of meditation and the use of the ‘Om’ sound in the context of the ad. However, we considered that viewers would be likely to interpret the ad as being a humorous representation of meditation practices which were widely associated with non-religious wellness or mindfulness techniques, used to help combat stress and maintain focus, and as a way of dealing with the pressures of working from home.
In that context, we considered that viewers were unlikely to find the use of the elongated ‘Om’ sound in the name ‘Tom’ to mimic or mock a specific spiritual practice, and we considered that the ad was unlikely to be seen as being derogatory to any specific religion. We therefore concluded that the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence, and did not breach the Code.
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: age; disability; gender; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; and sexual orientation. 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.