An ASAI decision to uphold complaints regarding an advertisement for Tampax tampons has been the subject of widespread criticism in Ireland in recent days. The original advertisement was set in a mock studio chat show setting and addressed how tampons should be inserted with on-screen demonstration of how to insert a tampon correctly. It included phrases from the "chat show" host such as "you gotta get 'em up there girls" and "Not just the tip, up to the grip".

The ASAI received some 84 complaints on the advertisement. By way of context their CEO stated that in the previous four and a half years they had only seen 7 advertisements with more than 60 complaints. The complaints in relation to this ad were that it caused offence, was demeaning to women, contained sexual innuendo, or was unsuitable for children.

A detailed response to the complaints was supplied to the ASAI by the advertiser who had created the advertisement. They acknowledged that the advertisement appeared to have caused more complaints than would have been expected but stated it was an educational message and based on research it was clear that such education was needed.

Ultimately having considered the complaints and the advertisers response the ASAI Complaints Committee did not uphold the complaints that the advertisement was demeaning to women, contained sexual innuendo, or was unsuitable for children. However it upheld the complaint that it caused widespread offence solely on the basis of the number of complaints received. Subsequent to publication of the decision an ASAI spokesperson said it "is unusual for advertisements complained about to be subject to more than 50 complaints. When the number is 80+ it is evidence that the advertisement has caused, for the purposes of the Code, widespread offence".

On that basis those complaints were upheld and the advertiser was directed not to run the ad in its current format again.

The decision has been the subject of widespread social media criticism given that the advertisement was portraying an educational message about a normal bodily function and especially targetting women. The ASAI said that they were not in a position to release any age or gender profile of the complainants. What is interesting from an advertisers perspective is that the content of the advertisement does not breach any provision of the ASAI Code save that the number of complaints alone lead to the implication that it had caused widespread offence (and by the ASAI reasoning thereby breach the provision in the Code which states that an advertisement should not cause grave or widespread offence).

Originally published 31 July, 2020

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