Advertising

“F*ck salad”: Watchdog bans ad for swearing about menu items, but are attitudes on bad language changing?

Dominic Powell /

Businesses have again been warned to steer clear of unnecessary or excessive swearing in advertisements after the Advertising Standards Board (ASB) banned two ads for inappropriate language, including a campaign which displayed the words “F*ck salad”.

The first advertisement was for Queensland burger joint T.U.B.E, which ran as a print advertisement in a local magazine. In the ad, the business proclaimed their offerings were “tastier than salad, cheaper than salad, F*CK salad”.

At the bottom of the ad, the business added in brackets: “Though, if you really prefer salad we have that too oh, and wraps”.

A complaint to the advertising standards board about the campaign criticised the its use of the word “F*ck”, saying “the swear word is offensive and unsuitable for a public advertisement particularly in a free magazine that many children and youth would read”.

The standards board has also recently been asked to make a ruling on an advertisement from film studios Paramount Pictures promoting the most recent Baywatch film. In the ad, the characters are heard to say the word “shit” multiple times, which garnered a number of complaints.

“This kind of language at this time of day should have no place on free to air TV,” said one complainant.

“The ad contains inappropriate language i.e. the word SHIT twice. In fact the ‘punch line’ last word in the ad is shit. I have seen the ad during the daytime, early evening and later at night,” said another.

Swearing getting more acceptable

Despite the advertising standards board (ASB) upholding the complaints in both cases, advertising expert at CP Communications Catriona Pollard tells SmartCompany she believes the increasing acceptance for swearing in modern day society means advertisers should feel more comfortable using swearing in ads, given they don’t go overboard.

“Swearing has become much more acceptable now in mainstream society. Years ago you couldn’t even say ‘damn’ in public, but words like ‘shit’ are being used in everyday language, and advertisers are reflecting that,” she says.

“With the salad example, advertisers would use that as shock value. You do a double take when you see something like that, and it would illicit a response from viewers.”

In a statement to SmartCompany, a spokesperson for T.U.B.E said its advertisement was “meant to spark a bit of controversy”. The company did not provide a statement when requested by the ASB.

“Our marketing is always pushing the PC boundaries. It gets people talking and a number of our promos have gone ‘viral’ on social media,” the company said in a response via email.

“In regards to the complaint, you [sic] never going please everyone and there will always be that one person who will be offended.”

In defence of the Baywatch promo, Paramount Pictures said in a response the advertisement was booked to run “to target a People 16-39 demographic”.

“Furthermore, I can confirm TV networks in all markets ran all TV spots to comply with the approved Free TV Australia CAD classification,” the spokesperson said.

Pollard believes this is a reasonable response from the advertiser, saying it’s reasonable for advertisers to release campaigns that include swearing if they are intended to be marketed to a certain audience.

“Some ads are more acceptable for different viewing times, and people know this. What’s put on after midnight compared to before midnight is always going to be a different level of acceptable,” she says.

‘Shit’ doesn’t sit well with ASB

In a response to the Baywatch promo from Paramount Pictures, the ASB ruled the advertisement did contravene the code of ethics, despite acknowledging the use of “shit” is acceptable in “certain situations”.

The ASB referred to other situations where it had upheld complaints against advertisements due to the use of the word shit, specifically referring to an ad for burger retailer Grill’d where it determined “the use of the word, ‘SHIT’ in this instance has no relevance to the advertised product”.

The watchdog also noted “shit” is often bleeped out in radio advertisements.

With this in mind, the board decided “many members of the community would still find this an inappropriate word to use in advertising which can be seen or heard by children”.

“The clear use of the word shit in a television advertisement that can be seen by children is likely to be considered inappropriate by many members of the community and in the Board’s view this word could easily have been excluded from the advertisement without affecting the overall promotion of the movie,” the ASB deduced.

F word doesn’t fly either

Similarly, the ASB upheld complaints against T.U.B.E, drawing on the upheld decision from a recent case against Anytime Fitness where the term “F*ck Unfit” was used. At that time, the board found “many people still find references to the F word to be strong and obscene”.

The Board noted that community standards research had shown that the word ‘fuck’ is still considered to be obscene by most members of the community, and that this was not appropriate to be used in advertising in a public medium,” it said.

“Consistent with the above determination, the Board considered that in the current advertisement for the burger promotion, the language in the advertisement was likely to be considered strong or obscene by adults and young people alike.”

SmartCompany contacted Paramount Pictures but was told the company had nothing further to add.

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Dominic Powell

Dominic is the features and profiles editor at SmartCompany.

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