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Swearing in advertising

17 March 2015

**Contains strong language**

The Committees of Advertising Practice have published a short report on swearing in ads. The report underlines the importance of an advert’s context, medium, audience and product, as understood within the standards set by the Code under section 4.1.

One of their examples was a complaint raised regarding a Booking.com ad, which included the phrase “look at the booking view. This is exactly what you booking needed.” Complainants suggested that ‘booking’ was a substitute for a commonly used expletive. The ASA found that the double-entendre was contextual and humorous, and, in that context, the ad was not offensive.

Conversely, a complaint about the same expletive, used to advertise a song with the word in the title, was in breach. Despite the context, the intended audience meant that the word would be likely to offend recipients.
Expletives that are part of a product may be understood in context, but even that has limits. Firebox.com’s ad for its ‘UNT Mug’, which used a ‘C’ as a handle, was found to be so likely to offend that it should not have been published.

The ad will therefore be judged as a whole against section 4.1 of the Code, taking into account all of the relevant circumstances. ‘Decency’ remains one of the four overriding principles within the advertising codes and so it will always have paramount importance – this report reflects that.

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