An advertising campaign for UK cycling clothing brand Fat Lad At The Back, which was claimed to expose the abuse that overweight people face while on their bikes, has been ripped down by the ad watchdog for being likely to cause serious offence.
The campaign, devised by agency Mellor & Smith, launched in July and featured the strapline “Fat C*n’t, actually Fat Can”.
The ad sparked 11 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority, challenging whether it was likely to cause serious or widespread offence; five complainants also challenged whether the ad was inappropriate for display in an untargeted medium.
In its defence, Fat Lad At The Back claimed that the ad had not been created with the intention of causing offence. It said that the ad was part of a campaign designed to challenge negative societal views and attitudes towards overweight and obese people exercising.
The firm maintained that the ads aimed to address an important issue of public interest by highlighting what they believed to be a widespread assumption that overweight people were not able to take part in “sporty” activities, such as cycling, or be healthy and fit in their general lives.
It insisted that considerable thought had been given to the ad during its creation, with consideration given to the placement of the letters and the apostrophe, in order to make the word a contraction.
The firm believed that any potential mis-read of the wording “C*n’t” would have been quickly rectified by a viewer upon a second look, and the point of the campaign would then be made clear. it believed that comprehension of the ads point – that “Fat Can” – would have been instantaneous for the person seeing the ad.
Fat Lad At The Back also said that it believed the ad was suitable for general placement, because it did not expect that children who saw the ad would replace the missing letter with the letter “U”, therefore spelling the word “cunt”, but instead would assume that the asterisk represented the letter “A”.
However, this was a slightly different version of events when the campaign first launched.
At the time, Lynn Bye, co-founder of Fat At The Back, admitted to Cycling Weekly that the campaign had been partly inspired by abuse directed at the brand on social media in the past year.
Bye said: “It’s supposed to say fat can’t as I keep telling people. We’ve just done it in a cheeky way, because we’ve never shied away from controversy. We’ve looked to be disruptive with everything we’ve done. It’s a sea of beige out there and sometimes, you just need to be different.”
This “difference” did not go down well with the ASA, however.
The watchdog cited its own consumer research which showed that the use of such words was so likely to offend that they should not be used at all in marketing communications, unless very carefully targeted to an audience that was unlikely to be offended by them.
The ASA acknowledged that the wording of the ad did not explicitly use the C-word, however, it considered that the use of an asterisk to “star out” the letter “U” in the ad meant that consumers were likely to view the ad as making a reference to that word.
It also noted that the phrase “fat cunt” was an often-used term of abuse, whereas “fat can’t” was not a well-known or used phrase.
While it considered that most people would understand the ad to be a play on words, and that the subsequent use of “fat can” “revealed” the first phrase to be “fat can’t”, it nevertheless considered consumers were likely to see the ad as making an obvious allusion to the C-word.
The ASA stated: “We acknowledged the firm’s comments that they were trying to raise awareness of, and challenge, issues faced by overweight and obese members of society. However, we considered that did not justify the allusion to a word that was so likely to offend. For those reasons, we concluded that the ad was likely to cause serious or widespread offence.”
Because it considered the ad was likely to be seen as referring to a word that many would find extremely offensive, and appeared in an untargeted context, it also considered that the ad was inappropriate for outdoor display where it could be seen by children.
Banning the ad, the ASA also warned Fat Lad At The Back about future activity.
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