When Poundland released its latest advertising campaign centred around a humorous, but controversial and mischievous elf, in December 2017; many jumped to the conclusion that the company’s Twitter account had been hacked. This assumption was quickly refuted by the company. However the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) have now banned the adverts on the basis that they are irresponsible and likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
The adverts depicted the elf in a series of risqué encounters which were captioned by double entendres. One such example depicted the elf in a hot tub playing poker with semi-naked dolls. The advertisements did get the company into a degree of hot water with Twinings who objected to one of their teabags being used to imitate a scrotum in a light-hearted reference to an explicit sex act. Nevertheless, these seemingly bizarre adverts meant that Poundland secured its most successful Christmas period since it began trading back in 1990.
The ASA received 85 complaints that the adverts were offence and the aforementioned advert involving a teabag was also deemed by many to be demeaning to women. Examples of Poundland’s adverts including the one involving a teabag can be seen here. Poundland responded to the ASA’s ruling saying: –
“The double entendres used would have not have been understood by children and both Facebook and Twitter have policies preventing those aged under 13 from creating accounts with them.”
Poundland also added that a poll of 12,000 Twitter followers found that 82% supported their social media campaign, that 33million people had viewed the ads, and that they had gained 43,000 new followers since the start of its campaign.
The specifics of the ASA ruling stated that: –
“Although we did not consider they were likely to be of particular interest or appeal to children, we did not consider those who were already following the pages would expect to see sexual or offensive content. We also noted the ads had been shared widely on social media, and therefore would have been seen by a large number of people – including some children – who did not actively follow Poundland on social media”
The ASA went on to single out individual images saying that the sexual references implied by the combination of caption and image were not subtle enough and in many cases, it was obvious was being insinuated. A spokesperson said: –
“We considered the depiction of a child’s toy in relation to such sexual references and acts in a medium which could be accessed by children was irresponsible and likely to cause serious or widespread offence, therefore breaching the Code. The ads must not appear again in their current form.”
It is understandable that some people may not have seen the adverts in the humorous way that Poundland. However, given that we are in Britain, home of the saucy postcard, pantomimes and Carry On franchise, some may think that this is a step too far towards censorship.