Adverts for Tesco Mobile have been banned for replacing expletives with food names.
The national newspaper ads, Twitter post and outdoor posters used the words “shiitake” and “pistachio” as allusions to swear words in ways that “were likely to cause serious and widespread offence”, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled.
The paid-for Twitter post, seen in February, stated “What a load of shiit” in large text, with an image of a mushroom next to it.
The mushroom then rolled away to reveal the text “shiitake”, replacing “shiit”.
A line underneath read: “Did you know the big mobile networks are raising your bills?”
Full-page newspaper ads featured the line “They’re taking the pistachio” in large text, followed by an image of a nut.
A digital outdoor poster stated “For f”, followed by three images of pasta, and the text “sake”. The three images of pasta then rolled away to reveal the text “For fettuccine’s sake”.
The ASA received 52 complaints that the ads were offensive because the words “shiitake”, “pistachio”, and “fettucine” alluded to an expletive.
Some complainants challenged whether the ads were appropriate for display where they could be seen by children.
Tesco Mobile said it had not used any offensive words or imagery and, as such, believed the ads were unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.
The ASA said the words alluded to were “so likely to offend that they should not generally be used or alluded to in advertising, regardless of whether they were used in a tongue-in-cheek manner”.
The watchdog added: “Whilst we considered the word ‘fettucine’ not to be closely linked to the expletive, we considered that people would interpret the phrase ‘for f sake’ … to allude specifically to the phrase ‘for f***’s sake’.
“We considered that ‘f***’ was a word so likely to offend that it should not generally be used or alluded to in advertising.”
The ASA said it was also likely that parents would want their children to avoid these expletives, or obvious allusions to them.
It ruled that the ads must not appear again, adding: “We told Tesco Mobile to avoid using words or phrases which were likely to cause serious offence by, for example, avoiding references to expletives.”
A Tesco Mobile spokeswoman said: “We’re really sorry for any offence caused. We know the frustration that consumers face when they notice their mobile phone bill has gone up mid-contract and we were reflecting their frustration – and ours – in these ads.
“We’re proud to offer our mobile customers supermarket value, and so we used a play on words relating to food products.”