It's not often that I amuse myself by reading transcripts of ASA disputes, but this is an exception. 'Cheeky' energy drink brand Pussy has been running a deliberately provocative poster campaign.
As was no doubt intended, this has provoked some controversy and people have complained to the ASA. Rather than responding in a formal way, Pussy has handled this with a sense of humour entirely appropriate to the way the outdoor campaign has positioned the brand.
Here's an extract from the ASA's website:
A poster, which appeared in various locations across the UK, stated "pussy" in large, bold text in the centre of the ad. Smaller text below stated 'The drink's pure, it's your mind that's the problem". Text on an image of the product stated "pussy natural energy" and text below the image stated "100% Natural Energy".
Claims on www.pussydrinks.com stated "The drink's pure, it's your mind that's the problem. 100% Natural Energy". Smaller text at the bottom of the home page stated "Our goal is Global Pussyfication and we aim to bring Pussy within everyone's reach" and invited those interested in distributing the product to contact them.
There were 156 complainants about the ads.
– Most complainants challenged whether ad was offensive, because they considered it implied a sexually explicit reference. Some complainants also considered it was derogatory, sexist and degrading towards women.
– Two complainants challenged whether ad was offensive to those with religious beliefs and was unsuitable to be displayed near to a church.
– Many complainants also challenged whether ad was unsuitable to appear where it could be seen by children.
– Two complainants challenged whether ad was offensive, because it implied a sexually explicit reference, was derogatory, sexist and degrading towards women.
Pussy Drinks Ltd considered it ironic that complaints had been made about offence caused, given that their posters clearly stated that the drink was pure and it was the mind of the viewer that was the problem. They said the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) stated that a pussy was "a cat, particularly a kitten" and that was the correct meaning of the word. They said cats possessed all the appropriate symbolism for their product and Pussy was cool, beautiful, feline and natural, with attitude, which explained their choice of name. They stated that until the OED changed the meaning of the word, they defended their right to advertise their product. They questioned why the complainants were automatically referring to the slang meaning of what they believed to be an innocent word. They said it was not their intention to offend, that the slang meaning of the word was not one that they had created, and that any problems were only caused by those who were twisting the meaning of an innocent word.
They questioned which religion would be specifically offended by Pussy. They said the ancient Egyptians used to worship cats. They felt that people of a religious disposition tended to occupy an idyllic place away from the crassness that sadly existed in mainstream society and therefore felt it was surprising that the complaints had been made.
The advertisers questioned whether the complaints were from children and believed the complaints were from adults with an adult perspective on the slang meaning of the word. They felt that the complainants were assuming that children were aware of the slang meaning, and if that was the case, they considered it was likely that the children had heard the slang meaning from those adults, who now claimed they wished to protect those children. They stated that, to a child, a pussy was a cat or kitten and did not consider that was offensive. They said the inspiration for the product and white can design was a gorgeous white pussycat owned by a family member as a child.
The dictionary definition ploy is a classic, but I particularly admire the innovative 'ancient Egyptian cat-worshipping' defence.
The ASA made what I think is the correct decision, noting that the nature of the execution indicates that, despite their protestations of innocence, Pussy were well aware of the double meaning in their name and chose to refer to it. Therefore the poster was likely to be understood as an explicitly sexual reference that would give offence. They didn't accept that it was likely to give particular offence to any religious groups, ancient Egyptian or otherwise.
So, pointlessly, the ASA has ruled that Pussy's ad cannot reappear in its current form. (That'll teach them!) Pussy have achieved their objectives of gaining notoriety and distinctiveness on a small budget and had some fun at the ASA's expense into the bargain. It all reminds me of the FCUK advertising controversy of a few years back.
The FCUK work was instigated by Trevor Beattie, who nowadays happens to be the boss of Pussy's agency BMB. Coincidence? I think not.