A Melbourne business owner has come up with a emoji-laden response after the Advertising Standards Bureau upheld a complaint against the company’s billboard advertisement due to the inclusion of the word “shit”.
Under section 2.5 of the advertising code, relating to inappropriate language, a complaint was issued to the board over a billboard from colonic irrigation clinic Aqua Health.
The billboard – promoting the company’s colonic irrigation services – read, “It’s ok to lose your sh*t sometimes because if you don’t you’ll end up full of sh*t”, followed by the company’s phone number.
The complaint issued to the advertising watchdog criticised the billboard for being “totally repulsive”.
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“I find this billboard highly offensive and totally repulsive with its close proximity to schools, there are hundreds of children a day being exposed to such a repulsive message with offensive language which I feel is unacceptable,” the complainant wrote.
In response, the business defended the advertisement, saying it “certainly wasn’t our intention to offend,” but mentioned it was “hard to predict what some people will take offence at”.
“Obviously, our poster was designed to employ a cheeky sense of humour to get its point across. (We’re a colonic irrigation clinic, and I would have thought there should be an opportunity to use a little humour to highlight the nature of our service.),” the business responded.
“We haven’t used any profane, offensive language. I thought we tiptoed around the subject quite artfully!”
However, the board upheld the complaint, saying while the statements “lose your shit” and “full of shit” were relevant to an audience seeking colonic irrigation, the phrases were “mildly aggressive”.
“In the context of a billboard for colon health the advertisement is not appropriate in this context particularly on a billboard that would be visible to a broad audience including children,” the board said.
While the business has been ordered to take down the ad, in response to the final decision, the Aqua Health is has come up with a crafty alternative approach.
“It is my intent to replace the letters “sh*t” with an emoji,” the business said.
“The emoji is in everyone’s phone and is very commonly used.”
ASB inconsistent on swearing in ads
The business also highlighted other examples of companies employing swearing in advertising, including fashion brand FCUK, saying there were “plenty of precedents for this kind of humour”. The board has historically taken different approaches to individual ads when complaints over swearing or implied swearing have been made.
Earlier this year, hundreds of complaints were levelled against outdoor supplies retailer BCF for its ad telling customers they could be a “BCFing expert”. Additionally, insurance provider AAMI received a number of similar complaints about an advertisement with a family lost “up ship creek”.
Director at InsideOut PR Nicole Reaney believes it is difficult for the board to have a solid stance on swearing in advertisements due to “so many elements” which can come into play.
“Aspects like the location, product, organisation, context and portrayal of the word all impact in the way the public perceives and reacts to the advertisement. There is a line defending a brand’s creative domain and social values,” she tells SmartCompany.
“Brands that do want to incorporate swearing, should be mindful of the platforms utilised to promote the campaign and ensure it aligns to our nation’s social customs and language. In this case, being located directly near schools makes it vulnerable to complaints by parents and teachers.”
Reaney believes businesses should always look to test their advertising and marketing to be on the “front foot” for any potential complaints, however, she also believes businesses could easily do away with swearing in ads altogether.
“Brands can still portray cheekiness and humour without the use of swearing – it takes some creativity in the campaign, but it also means you don’t leave your organisation the risk and cost of having to defend and pull the campaign.”
SmartCompany contacted Aqua Health but did not receive a response prior to publication.