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The use of expletives in advertising and marketing can cause offence. That remains true even if some letters in swearwords are replaced by asterisks, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled.

A direct mailing for marketing firm The Fuel Agency Ltd took the form of a valentine's card. The text on the front stated: "I F**CKING LOVE YOU" (sic). Further text on an adjacent page stated "You might f**cking love us". The promotion was sent to 1,000 addresses.

Two people complained to the ASA, saying the language was offensive.

The ASA's rulebook, known as the CAP Code, says: "Marketing communications should contain nothing that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence." It also says: "Compliance with the Code will be judged on the context, medium, audience, product and prevailing standards of decency."

According to the ASA, the Fuel Agency argued that to communicate an expletive without causing offence, "it was acceptable to use the widespread format 'f**k'". The ASA disagreed.

"The ASA noted the expletive in the ad was partly obscured but considered the intended meaning was still clear," it wrote in its adjudication. "We were concerned that the expletive, although partly obscured, was used on the front of an untargeted direct mailing. We noted the expletive was irrelevant to the product and considered its use was gratuitous in the context of an ad about marketing services. We concluded that the ad was likely to cause serious offence to some recipients."

The Fuel Agency was told not to run the ad again and to take care to avoid causing serious or widespread offence in future.

Copyright © 2010, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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