Poundland has landed itself in hot water with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) after the UK advertising watchdog received 85 complaints about nine “offensive” and “sexually explicit” ads the retailer ran in the run-up to Christmas.
The offending ads, which appeared across Poundland’s Twitter and Facebook pages promoting its #ElfBehavingBad campaign, featured a toy elf doing questionable things in various festive scenarios.
This included drawing a pair of breasts on to an icy car windscreen with the caption: “Oh Elf, we know it’s nippy outside but not that kind of nippy!”; a moving graphic of the elf with a toothbrush placed between its legs with the caption: “That’s one way to scratch that itch. That’s not Santa’s toothbrush is it?!”; and holding a tea bag between its legs with a female doll lying beneath it.
The complainants challenged whether the ads were offensive for their depiction of toy characters and other items which had been displayed in a sexualised manner; and whether the ads were unsuitable to be displayed in an untargeted medium where children could see them.
Poundland said the campaign – which also featured the “humorous” elf playing a game of cards with three unclothed dolls, captioned: “Joker, joker. I really want to poker” – was based on “humour” and “double entendres”, and argued that the ads would not be understood by children.
Referring to a Twitter poll, where 82% of 12,000 respondents said they “supported” the campaign, Poundland concluded that a large number of people found it to be “humorous, engaging, and in line with what it meant to be British”. It said it did not intend to cause offence.
“Britain’s the home of saucy postcards, carry on films and panto, so I’m sad the ASA found my double entendres hard to swallow,” Poundland’s naughty elf says in response to the ruling.
“At least it’s only 84 people who had a sense of humour failure compared to the tens of thousands who got the joke and liked and shared my posts online. I’m doing everything I can to be good so I can get out on good behaviour later this year.”
The ASA, however, said Poundland’s social media pages were not age-gated and could be seen by anyone – and therefore breached the rules for both social responsibility and harm and offence.
“Although we did not consider they were likely to be of particular interest or appeal to children, we did not consider those who were already following the pages would expect to see sexual or offensive content,” the regulator said.
“We also noted the ads had been shared widely on social media and therefore would have been seen by a large number of people, including some children, who did not actively follow Poundland on social media.
“We told Poundland Ltd to ensure that their advertising was presented with a sense of responsibility and did not cause serious or widespread offence.”