The 44 poster sites advertised the maverick craft brewer’s Punk AF alcohol-free IPA across billboard media. There were no restrictions on where the ads were placed: meaning that it could be seen any member of the public (one complainant identified an ad placed outside a primary school).
The ASA received 26 complaints over the ad and ruled that the use of the word ‘motherfu’ (and its clear reference to the full version of the word) made it ‘likely to cause serious and widespread offence’. It also considered the ad was not appropriate for display where it could be seen by children.
Shame the marketing budget only stretched to 16 letters. pic.twitter.com/LffwlVusJ3— BrewDog (@BrewDog) 29 October 2019
ASA: 'Motherfu' is a clear reference to the swear word
BrewDog launched Punk AF in the UK in May this year, followed by the poster advertising campaign in question in October. BrewDog plc said its advert was not intended to cause offence but was designed to be eye-catching; and considered that the message conveyed promoted staying sober.
The Scottish brewer added it did not believe that 26 complaints was indicative of ‘widespread’ offence. It believed, as no profanity or offensive language was used in the ad, it could not see how any offence caused could be construed as ‘serious’.
However, the ASA said any older children and adults who saw the ad would understand ‘motherfu’ was a truncated version of the expletive.
“We acknowledged the word was not displayed in its entirety; however, we considered the word ‘motherfucker’ was clearly being alluded to, and “motherfu” would therefore be understood as a clear reference to that swear word,” it said in its ruling.
UKBillboards, a media management service, said while the word ‘motherfu**’ was considered as vulgar slang, it did not believe the BrewDog context made it offensive. It pointed to two definitions of the word- firstly that of “A despicable or very unpleasant person or thing” but also as “A person or thing of a specified kind, especially one that is formidable, remarkable, or impressive in some way”. It said that, in the context of the ad, the word took on the meaning of the latter definition.
The ASA has said the ad must not appear again in the form complained about; and told BrewDog to ensure it avoided causing serious or widespread offence by, for example, avoiding references to expletives in media targeted to a general audience which included children.
CAP advertising code
CAP 1.3: Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society.
CAP 4.1: Marketing communications must not contain anything that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Particular care must be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age. Compliance will be judged on the context, medium, audience, product and prevailing standards.
Marketing communications may be distasteful without necessarily breaching this rule. Marketers are urged to consider public sensitivities before using potentially offensive material. The fact that a product is offensive to some people is not grounds for finding a marketing communication in breach of the Code.