Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

ASA: Ad Campaign Goes Too Far--Likely To Be Offensive To Christians

The Advertising Standards Authority has nixed an ad campagin for Ghd for "beautiful hair" created by a Manchester advertising agency because it received 23 complaints that the ads were "offensive to the Christian faith."

Jemella said they had not intended to cause offence. They asserted that the ads were intended to show a deeply held wish by a girl and her expression of a response to that wish. They maintained that the use of the word "thy" was to add drama and weight to the intensity of the girl's wishes.

Jemella argued that the phrase "thy will be done" was only a small part of the Lord's Prayer and was in relatively common usage. They maintained that phrases such as "turning the other cheek", "give us today our daily bread" and "lead me not into temptation" were also biblical phrases that were in common usage and had been used in previous advertising. They believed, although a small number of Christians might be offended by the phrase, the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.


Clearcast said they had approved ghd ads with a religious emphasis and the strapline "a new religion for hair" for the past seven years. They said, when they received the script for the ads, they took into account the heritage of the brand and the public perception of ghd through their marketing across all mediums. They noted the use of iconography had been present in previous ads in which halos, rings and religious looking books had all featured. They also pointed out that the ASA had previously not upheld complaints about Jemella's use of the phrase "thou shalt convert". They said "thou shalt not" had been a running theme in ghd ads and several previous ads had adopted the idea of adhering to ghd's rules or of invoking help with making a wish come true.

Clearcast believed the ads did not seek to mock any particular religion and contained language that had been used by ghd for the past seven years across all advertising mediums. They believed the depiction of the letter 't' was not intended to cause offence and appeared as a creative device in the same ambiguous vain as other symbolism used throughout ghd's ads. They said the bottom of the 't' became pointed to emphasise a difference to both the letter 't' and a cross.

Clearcast said they had taken a lot of factors into consideration before clearing the ads; they had considered the precedent, heritage, tone, previous investigations and possible offence at script stage and when viewing the finished ads. They said, although 23 people had objected to the ads, they were satisfied they had prevented anything being broadcast that would cause widespread offence.


The ASA acknowledged that ghd had been using the phrase "a new religion for hair" in their marketing for the past seven years. We considered that ghd's use of the word "religion" in that context did not mock faith or belief, but was intended to refer in the wider sense to an interest or hobby followed with devotion.

We noted, however, that the women in the ads appeared to be in prayer: their hands were clasped and they were looking upwards towards the sky. One was holding a votive candle and another was holding a set of beads that resembled rosary beads. We also noted the images of the women in their bedrooms, some of them in their underwear and others on their beds, were presented in a way that could be seen to be erotic.

We considered that the style of the letter t in the word "thy" closely resembled the Cross of Jesus. We considered that the phrase "thy will be done" from the Lords Prayer and the image of the letter t in the style of the Cross, were likely to have particular significance to members of the Christian faith. 

We concluded that the eroticised images of the women apparently in prayer, in conjunction with religious symbols such as the votive candle and the rosary beads, the use of the phrase "thy will be done" from the Lords Prayer and the image of the letter t as the Cross of Jesus, were likely to cause serious offence, particularly to Christians.


The ads must not be shown again in their current form

Read the ASA's ruling here.

The ASA has received complaints about Ghd's advertising campaign before. See here.

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