British ice cream manufacturer Antonio Federici has hit the news headlines again with a new print advertising campaign banned because of religious sensitivities. The 2010 campaign for Gelato Italiano shows a heavily pregnant woman dressed as a nun standing in a church holding a tub of ice cream, with the text, “Immaculately Conceived … ICE CREAM IS OUR RELIGION”. In another ad from the campaign two male priests are poised for a kiss with ice cream, with the text, “We believe in salivation”. The campaign follows on from the equally controversial 2009 “Submit to Temptation” series featuring a priest and nun getting intimate with each other while holding Antonio Federici ice cream.
In a statement to the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority, Antonio Federici said the idea of “conception” represented the development of their ice cream. They said their decision to use religious imagery stemmed from their strong feelings towards their product (they cited the text “ICE CREAM IS OUR RELIGION”) and also from their wish to comment on and question, using satire and gentle humour, the relevance and hypocrisy of religion and the attitudes of the church to social issues. They believed the small number of complaints the ASA had received represented a very small proportion of the readership of the publications. They did not believe offence had been so deeply felt as to affect their right, as marketers, to free expression and that offence caused to a small minority should not affect the ability of the wider public to see their ad. They believed that, as a form of art and self-expression, advertising should be challenging and often iconoclastic.
The ASA in its adjudication noted that the CAP Code stated that ads “should contain nothing that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Particular care should be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of race, religion, sex, sexual orientation or disability. Compliance with the Code will be judged on the context, medium, audience, product and prevailing standards of decency”. The ASA considered the use of a nun pregnant through immaculate conception was likely to be seen as a distortion and mockery of the beliefs of Roman Catholics. The campaign was banned on the basis that using such an image in a light hearted way to advertise ice cream was likely to cause serious offence to readers, particularly those who practised the Roman Catholic faith.