Summary of council decision:
Two issues were investigated, of which both were Upheld.
A poster promoting Demi Lovato’s new album featured an image of the album cover and was seen in multiple sites across London in August 2022. A headline stated “DEMI LOVATO” and “HOLY FVCK”, which was the name of the album, and the poster featured an image of Ms Lovato bound in a bondage-style outfit whilst lying on a large, cushioned crucifix. Further text stated “ALBUM OUT NOW”.
1. The complainants challenged whether the ad was likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
2. Some of the complainants also challenged whether the ad was irresponsibly placed where children could see it.
1. & 2. Polydor Records, a division of Universal Music Operations Ltd, explained the poster primarily included the artwork from Demi Lovato’s newly released LP and was designed to promote the album.
Polydor did not believe the poster would cause serious or widespread offence. Prior to publication, they had had checked with the agency that the poster was acceptable to run on the proposed sites. The agency had provided an assurance that it was, and Polydor had proceeded on that basis.
The poster only appeared at six specific sites in London, for a four-day period and was removed on 23 August 2022.
1. & 2. Upheld
The CAP Code stated that ads must be prepared with a sense of responsibility and must not contain anything that was likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
The ASA first assessed whether the language in the ad was likely to cause offence. We considered it would be clear to most readers that the ad alluded to the expression “holy fuck”.
Because we considered the ad was likely to be seen as referring to a swear word that many would find offensive and had appeared in an untargeted medium and public place where children were also likely to see it, we considered that the ad was likely to result in serious and widespread offence and had been targeted irresponsibly.
We then assessed whether the ad was likely to also cause offence on religious grounds. We considered that it was clear the ad was for an album, that the image was being presented as artwork in that context and that “HOLY FVCK” was the name of the album. We also considered that many who saw the ad would recognise the woman in it to be the album’s artist, Demi Lovato.
However, we considered that the image of Ms Lovato bound up in a bondage-style outfit whilst lying on a mattress shaped like a crucifix, in a position with her legs bound to one side which was reminiscent of Christ on the cross, together with the reference to “holy fvck”, which in that context was likely to be viewed as linking sexuality to the sacred symbol of the crucifix and the crucifixion, was likely to cause serious offence to Christians.
We therefore concluded the ad breached the Code.The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society.
(Responsible advertising) and
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).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained of unless it was suitably targeted. We told Universal Music Operations Ltd to ensure their ads did not cause serious or widespread offence in future.