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11th May 2022

Tesco Mobile ads cause ‘serious and widespread offence’ following controversial campaign

Charlie Herbert

Tesco mobile ads deemed offensive by watchdog

Some complained about the ads being in places where they could be seen by children

Tesco has been ordered to end an advertising campaign for its mobile service because it is likely to cause “serious and widespread offence.”

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said it had received 52 complaints about the Tesco Mobile ads, which used the names of foods as substitutes for swear words.

The adverts – which appeared in newspapers, on Twitter and as outdoor posters – used words like ‘shiitake’ and ‘pistachio’ instead of swear words.

But the ASA said they were likely to cause “serious and widespread offence,” and has ruled that they must not appear again.

One of the Tesco Mobile ads featured an animation with text saying: “What a load of shiitake.” Appearing on Twitter, initially the end of the word ‘shiitake’ is covered by an image of a mushroom, which then rolls away to reveal the full word.

The ad was accompanied by a line underneath pointing out that mobile networks are raising customers’ bills.

On digital versions of the ad, mushrooms covered the final three letters of ‘shiitake’ before rolling away to reveal the whole word (Tesco Mobile)

Another of the Tesco Mobile ads, an outdoor poster on this occasion, showed an animation with the slogan: “For fettuccine’s sake.” Images of pasta initially cover all but the letter F of ‘fettuccine’, before revealing the full word.

Whilst the ASA conceded that the word “fettuccine” was not closely linked to the expletive, it concluded that when all but the first letter of the word was covered it was clear what word the ad was alluding to.

Newspaper versions of the adverts had the message “They’re taking the pistachio,” criticising price increases from other major mobile networks.

Tesco said the campaign had been designed to highlight customer frustration with mobile networks (Tesco Mobile)

Tesco says the advertising campaign was designed to portray customer frustration with issues such as price increases, and had initially defended the campaign on the basis that they had not actually used any offensive words or imagery.

But the ASA said the words they were hinting at were “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 case of the ‘shiitake’ and ‘pistachio’ adverts, they pointed out that the words were “closely linked to the expletives both phonetically and orthographically.”

Some of the complaints about the ads were people objecting to them being in places where they could be seen by children, the BBC reports.

The advertising watchdog said it was likely that parents would want their children to avoid the expletives alluded to in the adverts.

A Tesco Mobile spokeswoman said: “We’re really sorry for any offence caused. We know the frustration that consumers face when they notice their mobile phone bill has gone up mid-contract and we were reflecting their frustration – and ours – in these ads.

“We’re proud to offer our mobile customers supermarket value, and so we used a play on words relating to food products.”

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