Lynx accused of 'promoting racial stereotypes'

A Lynx ad has been slammed for featuring “distasteful” racial stereotypes but has escaped an outright ban because the ad watchdog ruled its target audience of young males were unlikely to find the spot offensive.  

Source: Unilever

Unilever’s Lynx faced the charges over an ad for the “Manwasher Tool” aired on Gym TV, and available on YouTube, where female hostesses encouraged men to show them their “dirty [sports] balls”, in an innuendo-laden mock product presentation (see video). 

The duo then interact with members of the audience, with one man wearing cricket whites saying: “My balls have rubbed against my trousers for hours,” while referencing stains left by cricket balls. 

The piece finally ends with a black member of the audience raising a sack of footballs and shouting: “What about my ball sack?”

One of the hostesses responds by saying: “There really is no size or shape that thing can’t clean.”

The slot sparked three separate complaints it was offensive, unsuitable for children and likely to cause widespread offence due to the implication that the black character had bigger “balls” than the white character.

Lynx further argued the ads were made part of a media schedule that was targeted towards its core demographic – 16-34 year-old males – and that the size and shape of the sports balls bore no relation to the actual size of human testicles.

The ASA ruled in favour of Unilever after it argued that double entendres were regularly used in British comedy – such as the Carry On films – and that young children were unlikely to be familiar with the slang term “balls”. 

It did, however, add: “We noted the audience included only one black man, and we considered that by having him present the large net of footballs for cleaning in contrast to the smaller balls presented by the other men, the ad played on racial stereotypes,” reads the ruling.

“We considered it was therefore likely that some viewers would find the ad distasteful on that basis. However, we noted the ad had been targeted at men aged between 16 and 34 and we concluded that, on balance, it was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence amongst that audience.”

Elsewhere, an ad for Irn-Bru that showed a mum displaying prominent cleavage hugging her son and his friends has escaped censure despite receiving 176 complaints it was overtly sexual (see ad below).  

The ASA ruled the spot’s tounge-in-check tone and ex-kids rating meant it was unlikely to cause offense. 

Readers' comments (5)

  • Censorship gone mad.

    I honestly don't understand why this sort of humour (albeit childish) has sparked such deep debate.

    It's a tongue in cheek reference to 'balls' - something I've seen and heard about 10 times this morning from a plethora of media sources.

    It annoys me that people have such high sensitivities to these sorts of things.

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  • What about the Lucozade advert that's racist, poor weak white people and strong fit black guy, shows advertising agencies are really messing up their messages at the moment...

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  • Good point re Lucozade - but think how up in arms viewers might be if the scenario was reversed!

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  • This kind of thing can make people racist, it's like the complaints put differences between races in our heads. The guys who made the advert probably didn't even consider the fact the guy was black

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  • So presumably the myriad examples of outright sexism in Lynx's other ads can also get through because they're unlikely to offend the 13-year-old boys the product is aimed at?

    It is just as well for Unilever that the ASA doesn't have any balls of its own.

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