Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Not upheld.
A TV ad for Sky Cinema, seen in April 2022, featured clips from several films, including The Fast & Furious 9, Venom, Ghostbusters Afterlife, Dune and Stillwater. One of the films highlighted was The Boss Baby: Family Business. The ad showed five ninjas in black clothing holding weapons and the voice-over said, “A fight for family. Or fighting a family of baby ninjas?” The Boss Baby character was shown holding a stack of money. A sword then appeared, cutting the money and the Boss Baby was left holding five paper men. The Boss Baby said, “What the fudge?”
The ASA received 14 complaints:
1. fourteen complainants challenged whether the ad was offensive as it alluded to an expletive; and
2. six complainants challenged whether the ad was scheduled inappropriately, as it was broadcast throughout the day when children could be watching.
1. & 2. Sky said The Boss Baby 2: Family Business film had a PG rating and the clip shown with the line, “What the fudge” was an extract from the film. No offensive language was used in the ad and all content from the film featured in the ad was deemed suitable to be seen by children.
Sky believed the ad was consistent with previous ASA decisions where a play on words had been allowed, even when a claim had been used solely to attract attention.
Sky noted that several shops and businesses were called “What the fudge” and the term had been registered as a trademark. That indicated that the words were not inherently offensive.
Sky acknowledged that some viewers may find the clip from the film distasteful and would bear that in mind for future ads of that type.
Clearcast said the ad was approved with no scheduling restrictions. They noted that the scene featured prominently in the advertising of the cinema release of The Boss Baby 2 film, which was rated PG on its release.
Clearcast believed it was wrong to understand the word “fudge” as a replacement for the stronger expletive “fuck”. They said that “fudge” would be understood to be a standalone mild expletive similar to “fiddlesticks” and noted that it also appeared in phrases such as, “To fudge the issue” and “The decision was a fudge”. In addition, the film was about a comic book baby and was intended for a family audience. It was therefore unlikely that such a film would use a joke about one of the most extreme swear words.
Clearcast believed the language used was in line with previous ASA decisions where mild expletives had been permitted in ads without a scheduling restriction having been applied.
Clearcast acknowledged that while some people might find the scene distasteful, they believed it would not cause serious or widespread offence, or harm to under 18s. On that basis no scheduling restriction was needed.
1. Not upheld
The ad used the term “What the fudge?” and the ASA acknowledged that some viewers may make a connection between the phrase used in the ad and another - “What the fuck”. However, we noted that the use of “What the fudge?” was long standing, and the gentler term had become a phrase in its own right, distancing itself from the stronger expletive.
We further noted that the word “fudge” was spoken clearly, meaning no expletive was uttered and viewers were unlikely to mistake the word for the stronger swear word. We also understood that the use of the clip, as part of a wider montage of films available on Sky Cinema, was relevant to the ad and the footage used was taken from a film aimed at children and families.
We acknowledged that some viewers might find the use of the word distasteful, but concluded that the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.
We investigated the 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 4.1 4.1 Advertisements must contain nothing that could cause physical, mental, moral or social harm to persons under the age of 18. (Harm and offence), but did not find it in breach.
2. Not upheld
We considered that younger children were unlikely to make the connection between “What the fudge?” and any stronger expletive, while some older children might connect the phrase with a swear word. However, because the term used was mild and the ad did not contain any explicit language, we considered that they were unlikely to be harmed by the ad.
We understood that no scheduling restriction had been applied to the ad at the time it was cleared by Clearcast, which we considered was appropriate for its content. We concluded the ad had been scheduled appropriately.
We investigated the ad under BCAP Code rules 32.1 32.1 Broadcasters must exercise responsible judgement on the scheduling of advertisements and operate internal systems capable of identifying and avoiding unsuitable juxtapositions between advertising material and programmes, especially those that could distress or offend viewers or listeners. and 32.3 32.3 Relevant timing restrictions must be applied to advertisements that, through their content, might harm or distress children of particular ages or that are otherwise unsuitable for them. (Scheduling), but did not find it in breach.
No further action necessary.