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Tuesday, 1 December, 1998, 17:01 GMT
Protests at 'refreshing' nativity
heineken ad
Heineken's new poster campaign has been branded "tasteless"
A new lager advertisement is leaving a sour taste in the mouth of many Christians - by sending up Jesus Christ's birth.

The new poster ad for Heineken features a traditional nativity scene complete with three wise men, shepherds, and a star of Bethlehem.

But Joseph is depicted rushing out of the stable proclaiming: "It's a girl."

The 3.5m campaign is planned to appear on sites across Britain - but church leaders have branded it "tasteless".

A spokesman for the Church of England said: "A lot of Christians and Muslims are going to be offended by this.

"They may call this fun but it strikes at the heart of Christian belief, denying the fact of Christ's birth.

"It appears they are creating these advertisements just to gain publicity out of them."

'Tasteless at this time of year'

A spokesman for the Roman Catholic Church in London added: "It is rather tasteless to do this at what, for many people, is a special time of year.

"It is continuing a trend to see Christmas purely as an excuse to go out and spend lots of money."

The advertisement is the latest in a new series which follows the axing of the famous "... refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach" slogan.

Heineken insists it is merely trying to be humourous, and has not set out to offend.

"It isn't meant to be confrontational, and we apologise if it has offended anyone.

kelvin mackenzie
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"The point of the campaign is to take a traditional or familiar situation and add a refreshing spin to it," said a spokeswoman.

The company said it would consider dropping the ad campaign if the industry's watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority, received complaints.

The Church of England is also furious about banners running in the window of French Connection clothes stores, which bear the slogan: 'fcuk xm@s'.

"What makes this case worse is their previous 'fcuk fashion' campaign was banned by the ASA, but as they are advertising in their own shop windows this time there isn't much we can do about it," said a C of E spokesman.

Watchdog: 'no complaints'

ASA spokesman Steve Ballinger said the watchdog was aware of recent comments made by the Church about the Heineken campaign but had not yet received any complaints.

He added the ASA would only insist on posters being withdrawn if they were judged to have caused "serious and widespread offence".

The authority has recently imposed new rules to deal with a rise in provocative poster advertisements, with organisations that break guidelines on "decency or social responsibility" being forced to submit new campaigns to the ASA for approval for two years.

The Commission for Racial Equality was the first to fall foul of the ruling with a series of ads suggesting black men were rapists and apes - which were then followed up by posters asking the public why they had not complained about the first set.

Talk Radio must also now have its ads pre-vetted, following complaints about an advertisement featuring a woman with a barcode on her bottom to promote a debate about prostitution.

However, Heineken has denied it was seeking controversy.

"We haven't dropped our old slogan of 24 years to seek a confrontation," said the spokeswoman.

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