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Paddy Power rapped by ASA for bringing advertising into “disrepute”

19th March 2014 8:13 am GMT

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld complaints against Paddy Power’s now infamous ad featuring South African Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius, after considering that the ad brought advertising into “disrepute” and was likely to cause “serious or widespread” offence to readers of the The Sun on Sunday, despite the newspaper receiving no complaints from its readers.

With Pistorius’ trial for the alleged premeditated murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp due to begin in South Africa, an ad for Paddy Power appeared in UK newspaper, The Sun on Sunday, and included an image similar to an Oscar statuette which had the face of the Olympic and Paralympic track athlete.

Text stated: “IT’S OSCAR TIME”, “MONEY BACK IF HE WALKS” and “WE WILL REFUND ALL LOSING BETS ON THE OSCAR PISTORIUS TRIAL IF HE IS FOUND NOT GUILTY”.

Complainants, who variously believed the ad was insensitive by trivialising the issues surrounding a murder trial, the death of a woman and also disability, challenged whether the ad was likely to cause serious or widespread offence. The ASA also challenged whether the ad brought advertising into disrepute.

The ad received 5,525 complaints in total, leading the ASA to take the unusual step earlier this month of ordering the operator to withdraw the ad from circulation pending the outcome of its investigation.

Paddy Power said at the time that the ad only ran as a one-off creative tied into the Oscars and was not part of a longer term media campaign, and would therefore not be appearing again.

The company “strongly believed” that the ad did not cause serious or widespread offence and claimed that the number of complaints received about the ad reflected media and public interest in the news story.

News Group Newspapers Ltd (The Sun on Sunday) said its commercial team were aware that the ad raised questions of taste and was therefore escalated to a senior editorial colleague prior to publication, in line with their normal procedure. A previous version of the ad had included a different image that was considered to be unsuitable for inclusion in the publication.

News Group said that while it was apparent the ad was intended to have an element of shock and to be talked about, the company believed it would not cause serious or widespread offence to their readers who saw it in the sports section.

It took the decision to publish the ad in good faith and did not intend to cause offence to their readers, the company said, but regretted that offence had been caused, although no complaints had been received by from its readers.

News Group understood a significant number of complaints about the appropriateness of the ad had been received by the ASA and that there was a question to be answered about whether it had caused widespread offence. The company said it was, however, a highly subjective matter about which there were a range of views, and believed strongly that the ad, which was a one-off, did not bring advertising generally into disrepute.

In its assessment, the ASA welcomed Paddy Power’s cooperation in responding promptly and the company’s confirmation that the ad would not be repeated in the UK pending the outcome of the investigation, as directed by the ASA.

It considered however that the text in the ad was likely to be interpreted as making light of the serious decision making process involved in the trial, which included the death of a woman who had been shot by her boyfriend.

“We therefore considered the ad went further than simply being in poor taste and that it was likely to cause serious or widespread offence to readers of The Sun on Sunday by trivialising the sensitive issues surrounding the murder trial,” said the ASA.

The ASA considered that some of the text would also be understood by readers as a clear reference to Oscar Pistorius’s disability, claiming that the ad went further than simply being in poor taste and expressed concerned that using the pun “IF HE WALKS” made light of disability. On these points, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 4.1 and 4.3 (Harm and offence).

In the context of a high profile murder trial, the ASA also considered that it would have been reasonable to foresee that serious or widespread offence was likely to be caused by placing an ad that sought commercial advantage based on that trial and which made light of the sensitive issues involved.

“Given the content of the ad, and the prevailing circumstances at the time of its publication, we concluded that it brought advertising into disrepute,” it said.

On this point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.5 (Compliance).

Paddy Power has been told that the ad must not appear again in its current form, and that it must ensure its future ads do not cause serious or widespread offence and did not bring advertising into disrepute.

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