Now Kissing Is Considered To Be Sexually Explicit: The Continuing Madness Of The ASA

Britain’s ever-prudish advertising censors get worked up about the idea of couples showing fully-clothed affection for each other.

We’ve bitched and moaned about the sexual paranoia of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) – Britain’s self-appointed, legally dubious advertising ‘regulator’ – so often that it seems pointless to keep making the same complaints about the same twitchy, prudish moralising. Yet every time that we think we’ve reported on the organisation’s lowest ebb, they surprise us by upping the ante.

So it has been this week when the ASA have – uniquely among global regulators – upheld the complaints of a whole three people – who I think we can safely assume to have a stick up their ass the size of Britain – about an international (and yes, rather contrived) ad campaign for clothing retailer Diesel that featured real couples reunited after being separated during the lockdown. What did these outrageous ads show? Let’s quote the ASA’s own description:

  • a. The first ad, seen on the websites for the Independent newspaper and Sky News included a slide show of images of couples kissing, some open-mouthed and on beds, alongside the caption DIESEL FOR SUCCESSFUL LIVING.

  • b. The second ad, appearing on the website for Sky News, included a video that automatically played. The video featured voiceovers from several people who described being apart from their romantic partner before getting back together. The video included shots of couples kissing and beginning to undress in sexual positions, including partners straddling each other in bed.

Well, there you have it – virtually hardcore porn.

Now, even the ASA had to concede that the ads were not exactly sexually explicit – but they were ‘sexually suggestive’ and that’s enough. Ads with grown adults kissing passionately, shown on news websites aimed at and frequented by adult viewers are beyond the pale. The reason for that is because, even though Sky News and The Independent are unlikely to be the online destination of choice for kids, it was ‘likely’ that some children would be looking at the sites and clearly, those news-hungry kids were never going to see any actual content on those sites that outdid these ads in terms of sexual explicitness. No news reports about rape or sexual assault… no discussion of sexual orientation and gender rights. No, clearly, these news sites are entirely child-friendly and so the sight of fully-clothed people kissing was going to be the thing that shattered the innocence of these theoretical child newshounds.

Let’s not beat around the bush here – the idea that children who would visit news sites would somehow be unaware that grown adults sometimes kiss and cuddle is laughable. The ads were in no way explicit or unsavoury, yet the ASA think that they should be restricted to sites that children have no possibility of visiting – which basically means age-restricted porn sites. I mean, how else could Diesel have “taken all reasonable steps to exclude children from the target audience”?

We should, as always, point out that this complaint came from just three people. People who we can probably assume have a bit of a chip on their shoulder about sexuality in general and same-sex couples in particular. The ASA, like many such organisations, is furiously right-on and would never uphold a specifically homophobic complaint – had the three people only been upset by the fact that same-sex couples were included in the ads, their outrage would’ve been dismissed out of hand. If someone really think that children are going to be damaged by non-explicit images of love and affection, then we have to assume that they are going to be especially upset by the ‘promotion of the gay agenda’, as they like to put it. But because they disguise their moral indignation as concern for the innocence of children and don’t focus on the thing that really upsets them, their idiotic complaints are not only listened to but upheld.

As with most ASA adjudications, this is in any way a pointless decision – the ads appeared in March 2021 and have only been condemned in December, long after the campaign is over. Diesel will, I hope, laugh it off – and no publisher, website of TV company should pay the slightest attention to these po-faced, paranoid and hysterical complaints. The ASA has power because people hand it that power, not because it has any legal standing. It’s time that businesses started to ignore their increasingly idiotic decisions and think for themselves.


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  1. I’m sure it didn’t help that the examples were of a lesbian couple and two biracial couples – anything could be trumped up to get rid of those images.

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