The Advertising Standards Authority has ruled that billboard ads punting an Advanced Medical Institute (AMI) nasal spray and featuring the words "Want longer lasting sex?" are "unsuitable for public display".
The ASA earlier this month ordered the adverts to be removed from 200 sites following numerous complaints, citing the advertising code's insistence that "prescription-only medicines were not allowed to be advertised to the public".
AMI initially refused, slamming the ASA for its "unprecedented and simply bizarre call to suspend this campaign before it has even investigated the veracity of these complaints". It did, however, subsequently pull the posters.
The ASA has now duly investigated the claims by 521 complainants that the poster was "offensive and, therefore, unsuitable for display in public locations".
AMI's lengthy defence explained that the campaign "sought to address serious men's health issues while removing the stigma and taboo associated with seeking help for them". It suggested that "reality TV programmes, 'lads mags', online content, the commonality of graphic simulated sex on prime-time TV and film and factual shows" demonstrated we were "living in a more liberal and tolerant age".
The institute further defended that "the number of complaints was relatively small in the context of the number of people who could have seen the poster". The ASA adjudication notes: "They believed any unintentional offence that had been caused was not serious or widespread: the poster included no swearing, innuendo, inappropriate or suggestive imagery or nudity."
Regarding the promotion of prescription-only medicine, AMI insisted the phrase "Want longer lasting sex?" did not relate to a medicine "but the treatment programmes provided". It concluded that there was "an important and vital difference between medical service advertising and advertising medicines".
Not so, said the ASA, and ruled the advert had breached CAP Code clause 50.11 (Medicines). It declared: "We noted that the medicine was available by prescription only and that AMI did not hold a marketing authorisation for any medicines prescribed as part of their treatment programmes.
"We therefore concluded that the poster had indirectly advertised an unlicensed medicine, which was available only on prescription, to the public."
On the matter of public sensibilities, the ASA said: "We recognised that the sensitive nature of the message AMI wanted to deliver about their product and the treatment programmes they offered could be intrusive to some readers under any circumstances. We also noted the poster contained nothing explicit, and considered that the word 'sex' was not necessarily problematic in itself.
"We considered, however, that the style and tone of this ad, with direct reference to sexual intercourse through the phrase 'Want longer lasting sex?', was presented in too stark and prominent a manner, and as a result were concerned that it had caused both serious and widespread offence."
Accordingly, the ASA ruled the poster in breach of CAP Code clauses 2.2 (Responsible advertising) and 5.1 (Decency), and ordered it "must not appear again in its current form".
That, however, may not be an end to the matter. According to the BBC, AMI will appeal against the ruling. Its European chief medical officer, Dr Michael Spira, said: "It is clear we were not out to offend anyone - and we know from representative surveys that the majority of Britons are not offended by our ads. Our ads have been very successful in reaching men with these issues, many of whom are suffering in silence, too embarrassed to seek help at their GP, to let them know that AMI can help them.
"We will appeal the decision as we believe all the evidence, including independent research, says the ASA has got this wrong." ®