ASA Adjudication on National Express Group
National Express Group t/a
Birmingham Coach Station
31 October 2012
Internet (on own site), Internet (OM 3rd party), Internet (display), Poster
Holidays and travel
Number of complaints:
Summary of Council decision:
Seven issues were investigated, four were Upheld and three Not upheld.
A website, two outdoor ads, a banner ad on Spotify and an audio ad on Spotify:
a. The website, www.eurolines.co.uk, featured an image of a woman wearing a 'can-can' costume lifting her skirt and kicking one leg in the air. A red box, positioned over her crotch stated "SEE WHAT YOU'RE MISSING IN EUROPE". Next to the image, it stated "London to Brussels, Amsterdam or Paris FROM £9* ONE-WAY".
b. An outdoor ad, displayed on trains, showed the top half of a woman wearing a can-can costume lifting her skirt and kicking one leg in the air. Text next to the image stated "SEE WHAT YOU'RE MISSING IN EUROPE. From just £9* one-way". Text underneath the image stated "Your number 1 coach operator for Europe...".
c. An outdoor ad, displayed in the toilets of a family-friendly pub, showed an image of a woman wearing a can-can costume, lifting her skirt and kicking one leg in the air. A box containing a mobile phone quick response code (QR Code) was positioned over her crotch. Text underneath the image stated "SEE WHAT YOU'RE MISSING IN EUROPE. London to Paris, Amsterdam or Brussels from just £8 one way".
d. A banner ad on Spotify showed the same image as in ad (a).
e. The audio ad featured a male character recounting a trip to Amsterdam, with a number of words censored by bleeps. The character said, "So anyway, me and the boys got a Eurolines coach to Amsterdam for just £9.00, and went straight to the [bleep] district. My girlfriend wasn't there, so I could buy a [bleep] without her knowing. After hours of window shopping, I finally went with a cute pair of Dutch [bleep]. They were a bit pricey, but well worth it." A male voice-over then stated, "To hear the ad in full and see what you're missing in Europe, click the banner and discover low cost coach travel to hundreds of destinations, when you book online at least four days in advance. Eurolines - see what you're missing in Europe."
Thirteen complainants objected to the ads:
1. five complainants objected that ad (a) made implied references to sex and prostitution and that it was offensive and degrading to women;
2. seven complainants objected that ad (b) made implied references to sex and prostitution and that it was offensive and degrading to women;
3. two complainants challenged whether ad (b) was irresponsibly placed, because they believed it was unsuitable for an untargeted medium where it could be seen by children;
4. one complainant challenged whether ad (c) was offensive and degrading to women;
5. one complainant challenged whether ad (c) and was irresponsibly placed because they believed it was unsuitable for an untargeted medium where it could be seen by children;
6. one complainant objected that ad (d) was offensive and degrading to women; and
7. one complainant objected that ad (e) was overtly sexual and that the reference to visiting a prostitute was offensive.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
1., 2., & 3. National Express Group t/a Eurolines (Eurolines) said the can-can image in ads (a) and (b) was in no way intended to be offensive and believed it would not be perceived as degrading to women. They believed the ads did not make any reference to sex or prostitution. They said the ads were promoting low cost travel to Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels and that the image featured a popular stereotypical image synonymous with Paris and that there was no nudity or gratuitous language used. They conceded that they could have further toned down the image for use on the website and outdoor media and accepted that they could have caused some unintended offence. They stated that they had since removed the image on the website and replaced it with one which they believed was appropriate.
4. & 5. They said the campaign also had an 'out of home' element and this predominantly used poster sites within the washroom areas of bars and pubs/clubs whose clientele closely matched the target audience. They stated that the media owners had, without their knowledge or consent, also placed the ads in venues outside those which had been agreed and that resulted in poster (c) being placed in a family friendly pub. They stated that whilst they did not believe the ad to be offensive, they did accept the placement could have caused some unintended offence.
6. & 7. They said that Spotify was a highly targeted medium which they used to target their key audience of young adults between the ages 18 and 25 to whom they believed the ads would appeal. They believed the ads to be cheeky rather than offensive, although they accepted the bleeped out audio ad was slightly suggestive. They provided details of the full version of the ad without any words *bleeped* out.
1. & 6. Upheld
Whilst we considered that the image of a French can-can dancer featured in ads (a) and (d) was likely to be a well-known cultural reference, the use of the box of text which stated "SEE WHAT YOU'RE MISSING IN EUROPE" and which was placed over the woman's crotch, implied that she was naked underneath. We considered the images of the woman were unlikely to be seen as an implied reference to prostitution, but the use of the visual and verbal pun in the ads about the potential seeing her genital area nevertheless was likely to be understood to present the woman as a sexual object. We concluded that, in the context of marketing for European travel, the image was likely to cause offence.
On these points ads (a) and (d) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 4.1 (Harm and offence).
4. & 5. Upheld
We considered that the use of the QR Code placed directly over the can-can dancer's crotch, alongside the text underneath which stated "See what you're missing in Europe" would be likely to be understood to be about the potential for seeing her genital area. We considered that this was exacerbated by the fact that users were encouraged to scan her genital area with a smart phone which had a QR Code app. We concluded that, in the context of marketing for European travel, the image was likely to cause offence and was not suitable for public display.
On these points ad (c) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Social responsibility) and 4.1 (Harm and offence).
2. & 3. Not upheld
Whilst ad (b) featured the same text and a similar image of the can-can dancer to ad (a), it did not use the visual pun of the box of text being placed over her crotch and did not draw any attention to the genital area. We considered that it was only mildly sexual and, as a well-known cultural reference, was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence and was acceptable for an untargeted medium.
On these points we investigated ad (b) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 (Social responsibility) and 4.1 (Harm and offence) but did not find it in breach.
7. Not upheld
We noted audio ad (e) contained a script about visiting Amsterdam and that certain key words had been bleeped out in such a way that some consumers would understand the ad to be making implied sexual references because of the association with Amsterdam’s red light district. Although we acknowledged that some consumers might find that implied sexual content distasteful, we considered that most would view it as light-hearted and that it was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.
On this point we investigated ad (e) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 4.1 (Harm and offence) but did not find it in breach.
Ads (a), (c), and (d) should not appear again in their current form.