Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, of which both were Upheld.
A press ad for Sporting Index, seen in City AM and the Racing Post, featured an image of the 'Christ the Redeemer' statue that had been digitally manipulated to show Jesus with his right arm around a bikini-clad woman, his hand resting just above her bottom, and a bottle of champagne in his left hand. The statue's face had also been altered from a solemn expression to a smile. A large caption at the bottom of the image stated "There's a more exciting side to Brazil" and a roundel next to the statue's head stated "£500 IN FREE BETS*". Further text stated "World Cup excitement guaranteed".
The ASA received 25 complaints about the ad:
1. All the complainants, including the Evangelical Alliance, challenged whether the ad was likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Many of the complainants mentioned the woman and the bottle of champagne in particular.
2. The ASA challenged whether the ad linked gambling with sexual success.
1. Sporting Index Ltd stated that the image of the Christ the Redeemer statue had long been strongly associated with Rio de Janeiro and that as a landmark it had been widely used in the media to promote Brazil as a tourist destination. They considered that it was an iconic image that was immediately and readily identifiable and associated with Rio de Janeiro and Brazil as much (if not more so) than with its religious connotations, and stated that the image had been chosen on these grounds.
Sporting Index stated their belief that the treatment of the original image was an important consideration, and that they intended the imagery in the ad to be light-hearted, humorous and cartoon-like instead of true-to-life. The considered that the utilisation of a large amount of digital manipulation ultimately achieved this objective. Sporting Index also stated that the juxtaposition of the woman and the wine bottle was intended to be tongue-in-cheek and reflective of Rio de Janeiro's reputation as a 'city of fun'. They stated that women wearing bikinis were perhaps even more associated with Rio de Janeiro than the statue of Christ the Redeemer. They also stated that the headline was a segue into the strapline "World Cup excitement guaranteed". Sporting Index Ltd stated that they did not believe the complaints received amounted to causing serious or widespread offence.
City AM stated that they had received three complaints themselves, which they understood to have come from the Evangelical Alliance (EA) directly and from EA's campaign about the ad. They stated that their readers in the City were broadminded, diverse and had a lively sense of humour. They took the view that they should be open to ads from all marketers, except in cases where rules are breached.
2. Sporting Index stated their belief that the ad could not genuinely be interpreted to have made any claims or connotations that gambling would increase a consumer's sexual success or enhance their attractiveness. They reiterated that the imagery used in the ad was designed to portray, in a humorous style, the long established reputation of Rio de Janeiro, the best known of the host cities for the 2014 World Cup. They noted that it was also a city famous for its beach lifestyle and the Carnival. They stated that previous ASA rulings had indicated that it was acceptable to feature attractive people in gambling ads without it being automatically considered a link with sexual success. They stated that the image of the bikini-clad woman in the ad was within a cartoon-like rendition and believed that this context was important.
The ASA acknowledged that the statue of Christ the Redeemer was likely to be strongly evocative of Brazil in general and Rio de Janeiro in particular, and that as a famous landmark it was often used to publicise these destinations. However, we noted that, despite this secular use, it was still a depiction of Jesus and was likely to carry a large degree of religious significance for Christians in particular, and that care should therefore be taken over its use. We considered that general references to the statue in order to highlight the location were unlikely to cause offence because it would be clear in what context the image was intended to be viewed. We also appreciated that the imagery was intended to be a tongue-in-cheek and light-hearted reference to Rio de Janeiro's beach and Carnival culture. Nonetheless, we considered that a depiction of Jesus with his arm around a largely undressed woman, holding a champagne bottle and apparently celebrating a gambling win was likely to cause offence to a significant number of Christians, regardless of this humorous intention or references to Rio de Janeiro and the World Cup, because it depicted the person of Jesus in a context at odds with commonly held beliefs about the nature of Christ. We therefore concluded that the ad was likely to cause serious offence to some readers.
The ad breached 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).
The ASA acknowledged that the inclusion of an attractive person in an ad for gambling might not in itself automatically imply a link between gambling and sexual success, and understood Sporting Index's view that the woman was intended to represent the culture of Rio de Janeiro. However, we considered that the ad strongly implied that the statue depicted a figure celebrating a gambling win and that the woman constituted part of this celebration. We noted that the figure's hand was placed just above the woman's bottom and that she was turned partly towards him, and considered that this pose implied a degree of flirtatiousness and sexual contact regardless of whether the figures were presented in a cartoon-like manner. We understood that the woman's attire was intended to be a reference to Brazilian beaches and therefore incidental to the message of the ad, but considered that this was not clear from the context of the ad and that the woman's clothing reinforced the implication of sexual contact with the other figure. In light of these factors we concluded that the ad breached the Code by linking gambling with sexual success.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 16.3.8 16.3.8 link gambling to seduction, sexual success or enhanced attractiveness (Gambling).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Sporting Index Ltd to ensure that future ads would not link gambling to sexual success or be likely to cause serious or widespread offence.