An e-mail for a clothing retailer stated "Social Effin' Sunday … We're celebrating a large London-based sporting event (any idea?) with a bonza London collection - get into the spirit of things! Fifty shades of Urban (Oooo, Vicar!) … Well spank me with a paddle, we're feeling colourful! It may be Sunday, but we're all about colourful clothes, colourful language and downright dirty jokes (sorry Gran) … ***king facts … The first known use of the F-word can be found in a poem from 1503: 'Yit be his feiris he wald haue fukkit' … Dirty joke of the week … A doctor wanted to write a prescription so reached into his pocket and pulled out a thermometer. 'Damn', he said, 'some asshole has my pen'".
The complainant challenged whether the swearing and sexual innuendo was offensive.
Urban Outfitters said they were a trendy, fashionable clothing line with a "street style" attitude and that their core demographic was young adults and specifically students. They provided a number of press articles to that effect. They said their intention was to produce a funny, light-hearted ad to attract young shoppers and reflect their trendy nature. They said "FIFTY SHADES OF URBAN" was a play on the title of a popular book (Fifty Shades of Grey) that would register with their audience and would likely carry a degree of sexual innuendo, even for those who had not read the book. They said the phrases "ooo vicar", "spank me with a paddle" and "Effin' Sunday" must be seen as a tongue-in-cheek reference to the book which were not in themselves offensive and consisted of words heard in common use, including "Effin'", which was a non-offensive way of expressing a swear word.
They said "***king facts" was a reference to facts about the "f-word". They said the language of the poem, which included the word "fukkit" was unlikely to be understood by their audience and that both "***king" and "f-word" were phrases commonly used by their customers as alternatives to swearing. They pointed out that "The F Word" was the name of a television programme and was used throughout the programme's advertising. They felt their use of "f-word" would be associated with that programme, which was trendy amongst their customer base.
They referred to two UK trade mark registry decisions, which held that the brand name FCUK was less likely to be offensive to a younger audience and which allowed an appeal against an earlier decision to refuse registration of the words "DICK & FANNY" respectively. In light of those decisions and the way they considered the younger audience would interpret the ad, they believed that the words used were not offensive to the audience targeted. Furthermore, they did not believe the dirty joke of the week created a sexual innuendo or used any language that could be considered offensive.
They said customers must proactively sign up to their mailing list either in store or online. Customers did not have to provide a date of birth when doing so, but they believed those that signed up were likely to be within their core demographic.
The ASA considered that the sexual innuendo created by the phrases "ooo, vicar" and "Well spank me with a paddle" was mild and that, although it might be considered distasteful by some recipients, it was unlikely to cause offence.
We considered that "Effin'", "***king" and "fukkit", were obvious derivatives of the swear word "fuck" and that their intended meaning was clear. Furthermore, we noted that the punch line of the joke stated "'some asshole has my pen'". We considered that those references had the potential to cause offence.
We had not seen any data regarding Urban Outfitters' mailing list but we noted that several press articles reinforced their argument that their core demographic was students and young adults and we noted that their website, which was one of the means of signing up to the mailing list, clearly targeted a young adult audience. Although we considered that consumers generally would not expect to receive material that included expletives by virtue of signing up to a clothing retailer's mailing list, we considered that the e-mail was unlikely to seriously offend recipients or to cause widespread offence amongst them.
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.