Obscene toy elf promotion for UK retailer ‘likely to cause serious or widespread offence,’ says ad body

Bloomberg | Getty Images

A British retailer has been sharply criticized by the U.K.'s advertising body for a holiday ad campaign that showed a toy elf in a series of sexually suggestive positions with provocative captions.

On Wednesday, the series of nine ads by discounter Poundland were banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) from appearing again in their current form, after 85 people complained on the grounds that they were offensive or might be seen by children.

Poundland posted the campaign on its Twitter and Facebook pages from December 11 to 21 last year. One of the ads showed the elf holding a tea bag between its legs with a female doll lying underneath it. A box of Twinings tea also appeared in the picture, but was later removed when Twinings said that the image misused its product. The elf depicted looked like a character from the children's picture book "The Elf on the Shelf."

Bloomberg | Getty Images

Other images included the elf at a table playing poker with a naked male doll and two female dolls with the caption: "Joker, joker. I really want to poker."

The teabag and poker ads could be demeaning to women, the ASA said in its ruling. "We considered these ads were irresponsible and likely to cause serious or widespread offence by depicting a child's toy in relation to such sexual acts, therefore breaching the Code," it added, referring to the codes written by U.K. body the Committees of Advertising Practice.

The other seven ads with sexual images were banned for being irresponsible and likely to cause offense as well as being on social media that could be seen by children.

In its response to the complaints, Poundland said that its campaign was based on humor and double-entendres, according to the ASA's ruling on its website. It added that it did not intend to offend anyone and said: "A large number of people found the campaign to be humorous, engaging and in line with what it meant to be British."