UK advertising watchdog banned Tesco Mobile’s advertising campaign this morning for using expletives as names for food substitutes.
The Advertising Standards Authority ruled that the names were likely to cause “serious and widespread offence”, ruling the use of “shiitake” and “pistachio” to be unacceptable.
One advert seen in February featured text saying: “What a load of shiitake”, showing an image of a mushroom covering the last three letters. Another read; “They’re taking the pistachio”, alongside the company’s criticism of rivals’ price hikes.
The regulator explained that the words used were “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”. It added that parents were likely to express concern that their children were being exposed to these ads.
Partner of advertising law at Gowling WLG Dan Smith explained that the ASA remains “quite conservative” especially when it comes to swear words, or even allusions to them.
While the ad regulator has previously declined to uphold complaints about Bedworld’s ‘ship the bed’ slogan and Booking.com’s ‘It doesn’t get any booking better than this’, Smith explained that in those cases “the word play had some relevance to the advertised services” compared to Tesco Mobile’s more random and “gratuitous” attacks
Whilst Tesco Mobile initially defended the adverts on the grounds that they had not actually used any offensive words or imagery, it has since apologised for the slogans.
A Tesco Mobile spokeswoman said: “We’re really sorry for any offence caused. We know the frustration that consumers face when they notice their mobile phone bill has gone up mid-contract and we were reflecting their frustration – and ours – in these ads.
“We’re proud to offer our mobile customers supermarket value, and so we used a play on words relating to food products.”