In the same week that the Pope visited the UK, the ASA banned an ad it deemed could be offensive to some Roman Catholics.  The ad, for Antonio Federici ice-cream, which ran in Grazia and The Lady magazines  earlier this year, featured an obviously pregnant nun eating Antonio Federici ice-cream alongside the words “Immaculately conceived”. The strap line for the campaign was “Ice-cream is our religion“. The ASA received ten complaints from readers of the magazines claiming that the ad was offensive to Christians and in particular to Catholics. In its adjudication, the ASA said that the ad breached old CAP Code s.5.1 (Decency), which states that ads “should contain nothing that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Particular care should be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of race, religion, sex, sexual orientation or disability. Compliance with the Code will be judged on the context, medium, audience, product and prevailing standards of decency”.

Thus the ASA concluded that the use of such an image as the pregnant  nun to advertise ice-cream, was likely to cause serious offence to readers, particularly practising Catholics. It did not matter that the ad was only placed in a small number of publications, and only a relatively small number of complaints were received, the ASA ruled that the potential for causing serious offence in breach of the Code was significant and that the ads should not run again in their current form.

In 2009, the ASA banned a similar series of ads from Antonio Federici  which featured a cavorting priest and nun with the lines “Submit to temptation” and “Kiss temptation”.  The ice-cream company appears determined to create controversial ads, regardless of the previous adverse ASA decisions, so one wonders what their next campaign will be like. However most advertisers do not revel in the publicity of adverse adjudications and there is a danger for repeat offenders that they will be required to pre-clear all their ads for a prescribed period in the future.

When using any religious references, images or innuendo, it is always wise to seek advice and to tread carefully. An ad need not actually cause serious and widespread offence to be problematic, the potential to do so may suffice for a negative adjudication. The latest adjudication was investigated under the old CAP Code. As of 1 September 2010, the new CAP Code is in force. Please see our Ad Guide for further information about the changes to the regime.