Unilever’s Lynx faced the charges over an ad for the “Manwasher Tool” aired on Gym TV, and available on YouTube, where female hostesses encouraged men to show them their “dirty [sports] balls”, in an innuendo-laden mock product presentation (see video).
The duo then interact with members of the audience, with one man wearing cricket whites saying: “My balls have rubbed against my trousers for hours,” while referencing stains left by cricket balls.
The piece finally ends with a black member of the audience raising a sack of footballs and shouting: “What about my ball sack?”
One of the hostesses responds by saying: “There really is no size or shape that thing can’t clean.”
The slot sparked three separate complaints it was offensive, unsuitable for children and likely to cause widespread offence due to the implication that the black character had bigger “balls” than the white character.
Lynx further argued the ads were made part of a media schedule that was targeted towards its core demographic – 16-34 year-old males – and that the size and shape of the sports balls bore no relation to the actual size of human testicles.
The ASA ruled in favour of Unilever after it argued that double entendres were regularly used in British comedy – such as the Carry On films – and that young children were unlikely to be familiar with the slang term “balls”.
It did, however, add: “We noted the audience included only one black man, and we considered that by having him present the large net of footballs for cleaning in contrast to the smaller balls presented by the other men, the ad played on racial stereotypes,” reads the ruling.
“We considered it was therefore likely that some viewers would find the ad distasteful on that basis. However, we noted the ad had been targeted at men aged between 16 and 34 and we concluded that, on balance, it was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence amongst that audience.”
Elsewhere, an ad for Irn-Bru that showed a mum displaying prominent cleavage hugging her son and his friends has escaped censure despite receiving 176 complaints it was overtly sexual (see ad below).
The ASA ruled the spot’s tounge-in-check tone and ex-kids rating meant it was unlikely to cause offense.