The ASA has upheld a complaint concerning a Christmas card which was offered for sale through the Amazon market place by the seller named smellyourmum.com. The front of the card contained wording incorporating a strong expletive which, although partly obscured using an asterisk, the ASA considered was likely to cause serious and widespread offence in breach of Rule 4.1 of the CAP Code.
While it is not particularly alarming that the ASA found that the appearance of the expletive would likely cause offence, it is interesting that the ASA considered that its jurisdiction extends to claims concerning the display of product items which were simply listed in a market place storefront, particularly where the wording in question was relevant to the name of the product and (as pointed out to the ASA by Amazon) where such product titles and images were not otherwise prohibited by applicable decency laws.
The ruling does not provide much detail concerning the nature of the product listing and whether it was paid-for or preferential in any way, however the introduction to the CAP Code specifies that it does not apply to: (i) point-of-sale displays (except those covered by sales promotion rules or the rolling paper and filter rules); or (ii) website content not specifically covered, including natural (rather than paid-for) listings on a search engine. The ASA did not consider this point in its ruling, although perhaps it might have argued that the listing is paid-for by way of commission for product sales.
Nevertheless, the ruling should be considered with care by online retailers who display products for sale through storefronts with potentially offensive wording or images. For further guidance on this issue and on other Code issues, please contact us.