A television advert for Unilever’s Lynx Attract deodorant has come to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) attention after receiving claims that it is sexually inappropriate and offensive.
The ad features a spoof ‘breaking news bulletin’ set in a TV studio where a newsreader reveals that epidemics are spreading across the world due to the effect of Lynx Attract.
Proceeding scenes then illustrate an aircraft making an emergency landing as a pilot and passengers are shown removing their clothing while on-screen text states ‘Lynx effect epidemic’ and ‘First Lynx for women causes chaos.’
Continuing with the theme, animals at a zoo were then depicted running amok as keepers used the spray, before scenes in New York showed people dressed in gas masks and protective clothing pulling semi-naked couples apart on the streets.
Ten viewers challenged whether the ad, which gave the impression that it was a newsflash, was quickly recognisable as an ad, while nineteen questioned whether the sexual content was offensive.
Five of those viewers also challenged whether the ad was appropriate to be broadcast when children might be watching with a further four viewers questioning whether the ad was offensive, because it made light of serious issues such as aeroplane accidents and epidemics.
In response to the claims, Unilever says they had taken great care to ensure that viewers were aware that it was an ad that they were watching by using a ‘fantastical and humorous tone,’ interspersed with regular references to the Lynx Attract product and broadcasted after 9pm.
“[We] believe that the 'news' stories such as scantily clad people kissing in a plane, a zookeeper chasing penguins, an ape with a bra, people kissing in the street, and an EU spokesman kissing a reporter were so farfetched that it was clear that it was an ad and not a real news bulletin.”
Clearcast backs Unilever agreeing that the level of sexual activity warranted nothing more than a post 7.30pm restriction and that it was clear that the plane had landed safely, because the passengers needed to undress, not because there was a problem with the plane and the concept was clearly fantastical.
ASA: Claims are not upheld
Of the three issues investigated, none were upheld by the ASA.
The ASA notes BCAP Code rule 2.1 and 2.2 (Recognition of advertising), but did not find it in breach and stated that if an ad featured elements reminiscent of a news bulletin then the audience should be able to recognise quickly the message as an ad.
"In this case, although the ad was in the style of a news bulletin with text stating 'Breaking News' remaining on-screen throughout, we considered that it was nonetheless quickly recognisable as an ad."
Moreover, the Authority says that under Code rules 4.2 (Harm and Offence) and 32.3 (Scheduling), the ad was not in breach as it understood that Unilever intended it for a more adult audience and had scheduled it post 9pm although Clearcast had applied a post 7.30pm restriction.
"In most cases the ad had been broadcast after 9pm except where, due to an error by one broadcaster, it was shown after 7.30pm."
Finally, the ASA noted that the ad did not show a plane accident, but referred to an emergency landing caused by passengers becoming amorous. "On this point, we investigated the ad under BCAP Code rule 4.2 (Harm and offence), but did not find it in breach."