Who: The Advertising Standards Authority(ASA) and Tesco Mobile Ltd (Tesco Mobile)
Where: United Kingdom
When: 11 May 2022
Law stated as at: 27 May 2022
Three national newspaper ads, one paid-for Twitter post, and two outdoor posters for Tesco Mobile were challenged on whether they were offensive because the words “shiitake”, “pistachio”, and “fettucine” alluded to an expletive, and also whether the ads were inappropriate for display where they could be seen by children.
The newspaper ads featured text such as:
“What a load of shiitake” in large text, followed by an image of a mushroom. Underneath that, text stated, “The big mobile networks are raising your bills again. Join us for prices that stay fixed.”
“For fettuccine’s sake” in large text, followed by an image of pasta. Underneath this, text stated, “You could lose an average of £107 thanks to the big mobile networks raising your bills again. Join us for prices that stay fixed.”
One of the posters also featured text stating:
“For F”, followed by three images of pasta, and the text “sake”. The three images of pasta then rolled away to reveal the text “For fettuccine’s sake”. Underneath that, text stated “The big mobile networks are raising your bills again. Join us for prices that stay fixed.”
The CAP Code states that ads must not contain anything that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. The ASA considered that the words “shiitake” and “pistachio” were closely linked to the expletives both phonetically and orthographically and that they were words so likely to offend that they should not generally be used or alluded to in advertising, regardless of whether they were used in a tongue-in-cheek manner. The ASA also considered that people would interpret the phrase “for f sake” to allude specifically to the expletive phrase and considered this was so likely to offend that it should not generally be used or alluded to in advertising. However, the ASA considered that the word “fettucine” was not closely linked to the expletive so many would accept that those ads containing that phrase were using a play on words to make a statement about pricing as part of Tesco Mobile’s marketing message.
The outdoor posters featured in billboard media on which no restrictions had been placed so they were viewable by a general audience, including children. The ASA noted that they showed a more obvious allusion to the expletives and considered it likely that parents would want their children to avoid these expletives, or obvious allusions to them.
However, in relation to the newspaper ads, the ASA noted that the majority of readers were adults and that the publications had to be actively purchased in a shop or by subscription. The ASA therefore considered that children were unlikely to see them so did not consider them in breach.
Why this matters: The ruling demonstrates the fine balance between causing offence and humour. The ASA have made it clear in this ruling that businesses must avoid using words or phrases in their advertising that are likely to cause serious offence by, for example, avoiding references to expletives. The ruling shows that the ASA will look closely at the choice of words in the context of the whole advert so businesses must think carefully about the choice of words and phrases they use.