A marketing campaign for Tesco Mobile which used the names of food items as alternatives to expletives was removed.
Newspaper ads tweets, posts on Twitter and posters on outdoor walls used words such as “shiitake” and “pistachio” instead of swear words.
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The Advertising Standards Authority said they could result in “serious and widespread offence”.
Tesco apologized and claimed they were trying to convey the frustration of customers.
One advertisement that was an ad sponsored Twitter post, which was spotted in February, contained an animated video with the words: “What a load of shiitake”. A picture of a mushroom that covered the letters was shown rolling off.
A text beneath said that large mobile networks were increasing customer bills.
Newspaper ads criticized competitors for price increases, and read: “They’re taking the pistachio”.
The outdoor digital poster included an animated motto: “For fettucine’s sake”. Three pasta-themed images covered every letter except the F of “fettucine” before rolling away to reveal the slogan fully.
The ASA reported that it had received complaints from 52 people about the ads being offensive, as they used swear words, and some complaining that the ads were displayed in locations that could be seen by children.
The adverts used foodstuffs to suggest Tesco Mobile provides “supermarket value” for mobile phones
The ads used food items as a way to show Tesco Mobile provides “supermarket value” for mobile phones.
Tesco Mobile initially defended its advertisement on the basis that it did not contain images or words that were offensive.
However, the ASA stated that the terms they were referring to are “so likely to offend that they should not generally be used or alluded to in advertising, regardless of whether they were used in a tongue-in-cheek manner”.
In the instance of the ad featuring fettucine the ASA claimed that the term “fettucine” was not closely connected to the expletive however, if one letter of the word was hidden in the animation, viewers might interpret it as a reference to swear words.
The agency that monitors advertising thought that it most likely that parents prefer their children not to be exposed to the use of expletives or apparent references to them. It also said that the ads should not repeat.
The Tesco Mobile spokeswoman said: “We’re truly sorry for any offense caused. We’re aware of the frustration customers feel when they discover their phone bill is increasing mid-contract , and we’re expressing our frustrations – as well as theirs in these adverts.
“We’re proud to offer our mobile customers supermarket value, and so we used a play on words relating to food products.”