ASA Adjudication on Harvey Nichols Group Ltd
Harvey Nichols Group Ltd
365 Chiswick High Road
3 October 2012
Direct mail, E-mail, Internet (on own site), National press, Regional press, Magazine
Number of complaints:
Two issues were investigated both of which were Not upheld.
A direct mailing, an e-mail, three national and regional press ads, a magazine ad and a page on website www.harveynichols.com featured different well-dressed women and a man each with a wet stain on their clothing in their groin area. Text stated "THE HARVEY NICHOLS SALE. TRY TO CONTAIN YOUR EXCITEMENT".
The ASA received 105 complaints.
1. Ninety-four complainants believed the ads were offensive, because they implied that the people featured in the ads had wet themselves with excitement.
2. Twenty-nine complainants believed the ads would cause distress and serious offence to people with bladder problems.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
1. Harvey Nichols said it had not been their intention to cause offence. They believed the Harvey Nichols sale was an exciting time for many people and they had attempted to capture that excitement in a light-hearted and humorous way by a visual representation of the well-known phrase "I was so excited, I nearly wet myself!". They researched the use of the phrase in popular culture and were satisfied that it was commonplace and invariably used in a playful, inoffensive manner and was therefore in keeping with the tongue-in-check spirit in which the campaign was intended to be taken. They referenced various internet blogs and newspaper articles and light-hearted editorial content, which they believed showed that the concept of wetting oneself with excitement was not one that was offensive to generally accepted moral, social or cultural standards. Harvey Nichols acknowledged that their campaign divided opinion, but they did not believe that it caused serious or widespread offence against generally accepted moral, social or cultural standards.
2. Harvey Nichols said they did not intend the ads to be associated with bladder problems and was not designed to make light of or mock those with bladder problems, but focused on excitement. They suggested that some of the complainants were assuming offence on behalf of others and provided the ASA with three blog entries from people with bladder problems who found the ads amusing.
The Scotsman newspaper said, although they took the view that the ad was distasteful, they did not believe it was offensive. They explained that when they saw that other newspapers were using a cropped version of the ad without the wet stain they used that version instead. They said they received six complaints from their readers.
The London Evening Standard said, although they considered the ad was reasonably light-hearted, before publication they sought a second opinion from the newspaper's editor who gave them permission to run the ad. They received one complaint from a reader and contacted Harvey Nichols, who provided the newspaper with a cropped version of the ad.
1. & 2. Not upheld
The ASA acknowledged that the concept of 'wetting oneself with excitement' was well known and often used in the media and in speech in a light-hearted manner, but noted that images of someone wetting themselves with excitement were nonetheless unusual. We acknowledged that some people were likely to find the ads, and images in particular, in poor taste and welcomed the actions taken by The Scotsman and London Evening Standard to amend the ads after they received reader complaints.
We noted the language used, "TRY TO CONTAIN YOUR EXCITEMENT", was not offensive and whilst the images made clear what was intended by this choice of language, we nevertheless considered the images and the ads, although likely to be seen as unsubtle and tasteless by many members of the general public, were unlikely to cause them serious or widespread offence.
We noted Harvey Nichols' argument that some of the complainants were assuming offence on behalf of others, but also noted that some of them were people who themselves had bladder conditions. We understood that around 14 million people in the UK had bladder problems and involuntary urination was likely to be a particularly sensitive issue for many. Nonetheless, we considered the ads would not be seen as making light of people with urinary problems and therefore, even to those who suffered from such problems, were likely to be seen as unsubtle and tasteless but were unlikely to cause them serious offence.
We investigated the ads under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 4.1 and 4.2 (Harm and offence), but did not find them in breach of the Code.
No further action necessary.