L’Oreal has been forced to pull a series of advertisements after television viewers labelled the ad offensive because it used a catchphrase that sounds similar to “effing hell”.
The television ads, which played on free-to-air as well as pay TV, were promoting Garnier’s new “Fructis Full and Luscious” product.
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In the ads, a woman walks through an office with her hair billowing around her head. A colleague would then remark, “F ‘n’ L!” before a female voiceover says “new Garnier Fructis Full and Luscious for visibly thicker hair”.
A number of viewers complained to the Advertising Standards Board, claiming the ads were offensive to the average person.
“The abbreviation for the product FNL, this implies bad language and I do not believe to be appropriate,” one viewer said.
“I am deeply offended by the pronunciation of the loud F ‘n’ L, it is obviously intended to sound like a swear word and I do not want my young children to overhear the ad and repeat it. Especially given the ad is played at all times of the day. It is very irresponsible of the company to market in this way.”
Others told the advertising watchdog the ad is inappropriate for children.
“Everyone’s jaw dropped in my house at the time this ad was shown, and as adults we of course then laughed but we all agreed this ad is grossly inappropriate – especially when the times the ‘F n L’ catchphrase is used as the guy falls off his chair when the woman enters,” another viewer said.
“Who out there seriously thinks this isn’t a pretty awful use of colloquial language when kids are watching and will without doubt pick this up as OK to say and use?”
In response, L’Oreal said the Full & Luscious campaign was intentionally “playful” and “bold”.
“The advertisement is intended to convey a sense of energy, youthful irreverence and fun,” the company said.
“L’Oreal Australia acknowledges that while the advertisement is attention grabbing, it is not intended to be inappropriate, offensive or lack sensitivity.”
However, the advertising watchdog decided three of the four versions of the advertisement alluded to the “F” word and therefore breached the industry code of conduct.
In response to the decision, L’Oreal Australia said it would no longer play the ads on television.
“Taking into account the ASB’s decision to uphold the Complaints, L’Oreal Australia will no longer use the PG-rated advertisements being the subject of the Complaints on Free to air television, On Demand television and Pay TV,” the company said.
Issues management strategist Grant Smith told SmartCompany that for small businesses, it is important to make an informed decision about the risks involved with an advertising campaign.
“Having worked in issues management for more than a decade, it’s pretty hard to come up with any idea that has impact, cuts through the ever-growing volume of marketing noise, and doesn’t risk offending anybody at all,” Smith says.
“You can always make an argument that somebody, somewhere, can be offended by an idea. If we allow rampant conservatism to dictate our thinking, we’ll never challenge ourselves to bring the really great ideas to life.”
Smith says because small businesses have a much smaller budget than larger brands, it is important to be really clever in advertising, but that always carries with it an inherent risk.
“So long as the idea is consistent with the values consumers associate with the brand, it will usually resonate well with the target audience,” he says.
“I would be interested to see whether any of the complaints received by the ASB were from within the target audience population.”
SmartCompany contacted L’Oreal Australia but did not provide a response prior to publication.