You won't effing believe it: Advertising watchdog slates internet company over f-word

18 April 2018 - 07:00 By Dave Chambers
The Advertising Standards Authority ordered the company to “remove [effing] from material‚ places and times where children are likely to be exposed to it.
The Advertising Standards Authority ordered the company to “remove [effing] from material‚ places and times where children are likely to be exposed to it.
Image: Gerd Naschenweng via Twitter

“Ing fast”. That’s how quick Webafrica’s internet has become.

Until now‚ the company claimed to provide “effing fast internet” – even proclaiming it from a billboard. But after two complaints to the advertising watchdog‚ it has undertaken to amend the billboard at a Cape Town school.

The “eff” will be obscured on the ad at Trafalgar High in District Six‚ leaving the service provider to boast about “ing fast internet”.

And the Advertising Standards Authority ordered the company to “remove [effing] from material‚ places and times where children are likely to be exposed to it”‚ meaning its radio ad featuring the phrase cannot be broadcast at times when children may be listening.

Timothy Wege complained that he was driving his children to school when they passed the billboard‚ and he had to explain “effing” to his daughter.

The ASA directorate said: “He argued that he feels offended that [Webafrica] has forced him to explain the meaning of the word ‘fucking’ to his daughter. He also submitted that the radio commercial has the same effect.”

Hill said “effing” itself was not a problem‚ but the radio ad — which features other expletives being bleeped out before the voiceover artist settles on “effing” as acceptable — made it clear what the word should be.

“He finds it extremely offensive and an invitation to children to use the implied word or variances thereof‚” said the ASA.

Webafrica told the watchdog that “effing” was an alternative to “fucking”‚ “flipping” and “freaking”‚ so a parent explaining the word to his children could use one of the other words.

“It also argued that the introduction of risqué words to children at a younger age is inevitable with access to the internet‚” said the ASA.

However‚ Webafrica said it was not aware that one of its six billboard ads — three in Johannesburg and three in Cape Town — was on school grounds‚ and it would black out “eff” on that one.

The ASA said “effing” was not vulgar in itself.

“However‚ the word ‘effing’‚ in the context of the claim ‘effing fast’‚ cannot be separated from the fact that it replaces the word ‘fucking’. The directorate finds the explanation that it could also be replacing words such as ‘flipping’ somewhat disingenuous‚ as the word ‘flipping’ and similar words themselves replace the word ‘fucking’‚” it said.

A reasonable adult would understand the commercials as humorous.

“However‚ the phrase is used on billboards that are in public places and on radio at times that children may hear it‚ and the enquiry therefore does not end here.

“While the members of the directorate come from different cultural backgrounds and homes with different views on swearing‚ it was universally agreed that it would not be desirable for a child to use the word ‘effing’ as an amplifier. The directorate also noted that a child would most likely get into trouble at school if they used this phrase.

“Finally in this regard‚ it is noted that it is highly unlikely that a child would not realise‚ or come to realise‚ that the word ‘effing’ stands for ‘fucking’‚ especially in the context of the radio commercial.”

As far as the billboards were concerned‚ they said “effing” had clearly been chosen for shock value and was not suitable for children.

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