An e-mail from retailer Urban Outfitters, stated "SORT OUT YOUR SH!T FOR 2013 with NEW AWESOME EVERYTHING ...". Further text stated "WATCH THIS SH!T" next to an image of a cat peering into its litter tray in which "2013" was written in excrement.
The complainant challenged whether the language and imagery of cat excrement was offensive.
URBN UK Ltd, trading as Urban Outfitters, said they were a trendy and fashionable clothing line with a "street style attitude" brand and that their customers were trend setting, creative individuals with a sense of humour and who liked to experiment. They also said customer surveys had ascertained that their key demographic was between the ages of 18 and 25 years.
The ad was sent to their mailing list, which customers had to have signed up for and which they believed were likely to consist entirely of their core demographic. They said, although "SH!T" was a clear reference to the word "SHIT", it was a less offensive spelling. The phrase "SORT YOU SH!T OUT FOR 2013 WITH NEW AWESOME EVERYTHING! Referred to the common slang phrase "get your shit together" which meant getting yourself organised and that "shit", in this context, referred to belongings or thoughts. They said their core demographic would not find the phrase offensive, because they believed it was commonly used in their everyday language and frequently appeared in other media.
The ad was sent in January 2013 and included a video of people searching for new jobs, getting fit, giving up smoking, eating healthier food and organising their belongings. The picture of the cat, peering into its litter tray was the last clip and the text "WATCH THIS SH!T" encouraged recipients to view the video. They said "Watch this shit" was an American phrase used by youths to encourage their friends to watch something and that the reference to "SHIT" in this context referred to the video and that by watching it, their customers would be motivated to organise their life, make a fresh start and look at their 2013 clothing range. They said the cat excrement was used in a playful and inoffensive manner that was in keeping with the tongue-in-cheek spirit of their brand message and alluded to the cat watching their new 2013 clothing range. They submitted extracts from a magazine, and several press articles which they said demonstrated that their clothing was aimed at young people.
The ASA considered that the references to "SH!T" were obvious derivatives of the swear word "shit" and that their intended meaning was clear. We considered that, while the language may have been considered distasteful, it was relatively mild. We also considered that readers were likely to interpret the image of cat excrement as a visual reference to the claims "SORT OUT YOUR SH!T..." and "WATCH THIS SH!T" and, while some may have considered it distasteful, it was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.
We had not seen any data regarding Urban Outfitters' mailing list but several press articles suggested that their core demographic were 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 who had signed up to the Urban Outfitters' mailing list or to cause widespread offence amongst them.
We investigated 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.