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Not sheepish! Agent hits back after watchdog bans 'offensive' advert

An estate agent has hit back at the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) after the watchdog banned a poster advertising the firm’s services with a phrase deemed too offensive.

Independent agent Lamb and Co, which has five branches across the Essex coast, has been rapped by the ASA after a single complaint regarding a billboard at the entrance of Waterglade Retail Park in Clacton.

The poster featured an image of a sheep, alongside large text that stated “What the flock you looking at?”

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The word “flock” was emphasised in a gold font and the text underneath stated “We’re baa-rilliant at getting your property noticed too”.

A complainant challenged if the ad was offensive as it alluded to using an expletive with the word “flock” and queried if the position of the display was appropriate as it could be seen by children.

The ASA upheld the complaint, concluding that the F word it alludes to is so likely to offend that it should not generally be used or alluded to in advertising, regardless of whether it was used in a playful manner.

Alice Mosey, marketing director for Lamb & Co, said while she accepts the ASA is doing its job, there needs to be more consistency.

She told Estate Agent Today: “The ASA doesn’t take the number of complainants into account for any content brought to their attention. 

“In fact, they work by their advertising rules, so marketeers like me, are very aware of the risk they take when innovating ideas that might not be to everyone’s taste.

“Obviously, this is unfortunate in circumstances like ours, where the positive feedback significantly outweighed the negative.

“We carried out research prior to proceeding with our billboard campaign that involved looking at previous ASA rulings of the same nature from bigger brands that did not get upheld. 

“This does leave brands and marketeers in the dark on exactly where and how they draw the line on each case.

“However, in all honesty this isn’t going to prevent us from continuing to take our strategic, creative, and progressive approach to marketing as the billboard benefited our brand awareness and overall business since its launch in late December.”

She adds that estate agency has become so crowded that strategic marketing and comms have become an essential tool to succeeding in the industry.

Mosey adds: “Throw in the fact that everyone is consuming so much content every single day, the stereotypical corporate approach to marketing just doesn’t cut through the noise whether that be on social media or a billboard.

"We have no regrets over the campaign, it captured a lot of positive attention in Clacton and beyond via social media.

“In turn this generated more leads and business for us in the first quarter, and even resulted in us now having a local famous lamb mascot named ‘Woolson’ which a family put forward in the social media competition we held because of everyone loving the sheep on the billboard.

“We change our billboard designs every three months to avoid ad fatigue, and already had a new campaign lined up for spring and summer that we are expecting to go up any day now.”

Lamb & Co argued in its response to the ASA complaint that it wasn’t aiming to cause offence and believed the tone was humorous as reinforced by the large image of the sheep, which had its tongue sticking out.

The agent said consumer research carried out before launching the campaign found that none of the children surveyed, apart from one who was aged 17, recognised that the word alluded to an expletive.

The firm also said that the ad had been popular amongst children and family audiences, and as a result of community feedback, it had run a social media competition for children to name the sheep in December 2021.

Lamb & Co noted several previous ASA rulings in which the ads featured words that alluded to expletives which had been ‘not upheld’. 

Despite this, the ASA concluded that many people would understand the word “flock” was used as an alternative to the expletive it alludes to.

The ASA said the advert must not appear again and ordered Lamb & Co to avoid using words or phrases which were likely to cause serious offence. 

The ruling says: “We understood that the poster was situated at an entrance to a retail park where it was likely to be seen by people of all ages, including children. 
“We considered the image of a sheep with its tongue sticking out was one which would likely have appeal to children.

“Whilst we recognised that the ad may have been popular with some family audiences and children, we considered it likely that parents would want their children to avoid the word, or obvious allusions to it.

“For those reasons we concluded that the allusion to the swear word in ads with a general adult audience was likely to cause serious offence, and that it was irresponsible for them to appear where children could see them.”

  • Samantha Sullivan

    That is brilliant advertising!

  • charlotte Jeffrey- campbell

    What about FCUk - has that been banned too??

  • David Bennett

    So one person complained. Probably a competitor. Look at the additional (free) advertising that the media are providing for free! Very cleaver advert. Lamb & Co won't fleece you.

  • icon

    I cannot see how on earth anyone can be offended by that.
    I remember in the Rugby world cup my partner came to the pub with a French Connection T shirt that said FCUK the Rugby – what about me! Not one person was offended! Nor was I

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    • D G
    • 27 April 2022 11:05 AM

    Unfortunately Jan, people think because they are offended, then something is offensive; which isn't true. If someone wants to be offended, let them, that's their decision, why the rest of us should give a monkeys is beyond me.

     
  • Algarve  Investor

    Oh dear. How is that in any way offensive? It's funny, witty and memorable, what good advertising should be. The fact that only one person complained says it all. Wrong move from the ASA here.

  • Glenn Taylor

    Flock off - used like that is it still not offensive ? Im with the authorities, theirs no need for the obvious comparison to the swear word. It s not a word that bothers me but some people get really insulted and while I get the humour I think there are probably better ways to catch the eye.
    Locally we have a sign that says for fox sake slow down, its a blatant comparison to the swear word.

  • icon

    KFC ran a multi million pound campaign on TV, Radio etc titled “What the Cluck?!”.
    ASA are a joke.

  • icon

    I agree totally I am sick of these snowflakes

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