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Advertising Standards Authority clears a Bristol hair salon over ‘Jesus is coming’ advert

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has cleared Barber Brown’s, a chain of hairdressing salons based in Bristol, over an advert they placed in a regional newspaper which attracted complaints from Christians.  The advert contained a picture of Jesus, with the slogan ‘He is coming…Better get your hair done!’  Two people complained about the advert to the ASA, on the grounds that it was offensive to Christians.  The ASA then launched an investigation under rule 4.1 of the Committee of Advertising Practice Code, which deals with the causing of harm and offence.  However, the ASA released an adjudication today in which they announced their decision not to uphold the complaints, on the grounds that the advert was not in breach of rule 4.1.  The British Humanist Association (BHA) welcomes the ASA’s decision to clear the advert.

The advert was published twice earlier this year in the South West edition of the Metro newspaper, on 21 February and 8 March.  It depicted Jesus bathed in light, and the full text of the slogan was ‘He is coming…Better get your hair done!  Barber Browns UNISEX’.  One of the two complainants claimed that the advert suggested that Jesus would judge people on basis of their outward appearance, while the other argued that it was offensive to depict the Second Coming as humorous.  However, Barber Brown’s claimed that they had already been using the advert for more than three years in various formats, including in the form of flyers that were distributed in a local church.  They also said that the advert had drawn a largely positive response, including being featured in an article in the national press, and that it had not been intended to cause offence.

The ASA said in their Adjudication that ‘We acknowledged that some people might find the ad distasteful. However, we considered that most consumers would understand that it was a light-hearted take on the biblical story rather than a mockery of Christian belief. Because we considered that the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence, we concluded that it had not breached the Code.’

The BHA has criticised the ASA over some of its past decisions, such as its adjudication in September last year which upheld complaints made against the ‘Buddy Christ’ advert by Phones4U.  This advert depicted a cartoon version of the ‘Buddy Christ’ icon from the filmDogma, along with the slogan ‘Miraculous deals on Samsung Galaxy Android phones’.  In March last year, the BHA also criticised a recommendation made by the Committee of Advertising Practice, the ASA’s sister organisation, which resulted in one of the BHA’s own adverts not being published.  The recommendation was made against the poster advert for the BHA’s Census Campaign, which included the slogan ‘If you’re not religious for God’s sake say so’.

However, in the case of the Barber Brown’s advert, the BHA believes that the ASA has made the right decision.  Pavan Dhaliwal, the BHA Head of Public Affairs, commented that ‘The ASA’s past approach towards adverts that are accused of offending religious sensibilities has come dangerously close to introducing a blasphemy law through the back door, with some supposedly offensive adverts having been banned on the basis of only a few complaints.  However, in this particular case, the ASA has made the right decision by refusing to give in to demands for religious censorship.  They have correctly recognised that the advert in question is light-hearted, humorous and unlikely to cause serious offence. Although welcome in of itself, the ruling demonstrates again the inconsistency of ASA rulings and adds more support to our argument that the code governing offence needs revision.’

Notes

For further comment or information contact Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs at pavan@humanism.org.uk or on 0773 843 5059.

The Advertising Standards Authority’s Adjudication on Barber Brown’s advert: http://www.asa.org.uk/ASA-action/Adjudications/2012/5/Barber-Browns/SHP_ADJ_189063.aspx

The Relevant Code Clause under which the advert was investigated: http://www.asa.org.uk/ASA-Action/Adjudications/Display-Code.aspx?CodeId={0A7FAD8B-DA59-400D-B5BF-00433F7DFB31}&ItemId={73090C63-4B7C-43AB-9853-2D9E6B374EA0}

The BHA’s previous news article about the ‘Buddy Christ’ Phones4U advert: https://humanism.org.uk/news/view/886

The BHA’s previous news article about the banning of the Census Campaign poster: https://humanism.org.uk/news/view/758

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of ethically concerned, non-religious people in the UK. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.

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