A large billboard ad featured the word “pussy” emblazoned in large bold text followed by a small strapline reading: “The drink’s pure, it’s your mind that’s the problem.”
A second poster featured the word to the left of a headline, and the brand’s website read: “Our goal is global pussyfication and we aim to bring pussy within everyone’s reach.”
After receiving 156 complaints the Advertising Standard Agency ordered the first billboard ad must not run again.
Most were concerned the first poster was offensive and sexually explicit. Two complainants said it would offend those with religious beliefs and was unsuitable for children’s eyes. A further two people said the website was offensive because it implied a sexually explicit reference, was derogatory, sexist and degrading towards women.
Pussy Drinks Ltd hit back, insisting the ad was meant to evoke a playful kitten rather than slang for a woman’s genitals.
The firm considered it ironic that complaints had been made about offence caused, given that their posters clearly stated that the drink was pure and it was the mind of the viewer that was the problem.
They said the Oxford English Dictionary stated that a pussy was “a cat, particularly a kitten” and that was the correct meaning of the word.
They said cats possessed all the appropriate symbolism for their product and Pussy was cool, beautiful, feline and natural, with attitude, which explained their choice of name.
They said that until the dictionary changed the meaning of the word, they would defend their right to advertise their product. They questioned why the complainants were automatically referring to the slang meaning of what they believed to be an innocent word.
They said it was not their intention to offend, that the slang meaning of the word was not one that they had created, and that any problems were only caused by those who were twisting the meaning of an innocent word.
The advertisers went on to question which religion would be specifically offended by Pussy, adding that the ancient Egyptians used to worship cats.
They felt that people of a religious disposition tended to occupy an idyllic place away from the crassness that sadly existed in mainstream society and therefore felt it was surprising that the complaints had been made.
The advertisers questioned whether the complaints were from children and believed the complaints were from adults with an adult perspective on the slang meaning of the word.
They felt that the complainants were assuming that children were aware of the slang meaning, and if that was the case, they considered it was likely that the children had heard the slang meaning from those adults, who now claimed they wished to protect those children.
They added that, to a child, a pussy was a cat or kitten and did not consider that was offensive. They said the inspiration for the product and white can design was a gorgeous white pussycat owned by a family member as a child.
But the advertising watchdog disagreed. It found the firm twice breached its code of practice, adding that consumers would recognise that the term “pussy” had both a conventional and slang meaning and could therefore colloquially refer to the female genitals, as well as retaining the traditional meaning of cat or kitten.
The ASA said: “The ad consciously made reference to the dual meaning of the word ‘pussy’, including its colloquial meaning, which some would consider sexually explicit, as well as showing an awareness that the colloquial use of the term ‘pussy’ might be considered impure or problematic, and could therefore cause offence.”
“It would be understood to be intended as a sexually explicit reference which, in the context in which it appeared was likely to cause serious and widespread offence.”
It ruled that the first ad must not appear again in its current form. Complaints about religious groups being offended were not upheld, and neither were complaints about the website because the ASA concluded it would only be seen by people looking for information about the brand.