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Hostelworld: Another ASA ruling on harm and offence in advertising

28 October 2015

Throughout 2015 we have seen a number of ASA investigations into social irresponsibility and the causing of harm and offence in adverts.

Recent rulings

In July, the ASA conducted an investigation into Protein World’s widely criticised "Are You Beach Body Ready?" advert.  In that case, complaints were not upheld by the ASA, ruling that it was not socially irresponsible (under CAP Code 1.3) nor was it likely to cause serious or widespread offence (under CAP Code 4.1).

The advert was however prohibited on the grounds of the ASA’s concerns over a range of Protein World’s health and weight loss claims. In the June Yves Saint Laurent adjudication however, an advert in which a model appeared unhealthily underweight was deemed socially irresponsible in breach of CAP Code 1.3.


Last week the ASA upheld complaints that two Hosetlworld.com ads were in breach of CAP Code 4.5 and BCAP Code 4.4, which prevent marketing communications and advertisements from condoning or encouraging unsafe practices.

The ads featured a group of young backpackers running through a forest, and jumping from some rocks into an open water pool, with one man jumping from a particularly high cliff. The complaints were based around the ad condoning a dangerous practice, "tombstoning", which has been known to result in serious injury or death.

Hostelworld sought to differentiate the activity in the ads on the basis that it was filmed at the Ik Kil cenote in Mexico, a well-known natural spot where people regularly jump into the plunge pool, which is clearly identified at the location as being over 50m deep, as opposed to the case of "tombstoning" which involves jumping into the unknown.

The ASA’s ruling

The ASA set out a number of reasons why the ads were likely to cause harm and offence, including:

  • a number of people had been killed or seriously injured in the UK as a result of "tombstoning"
  • most viewers would not be familiar with the area, and as such would not know that the pool is in fact so deep, especially given that there was nothing in the ads themselves which demonstrated the depth of the water, and
  • despite being apprehensive about jumping from the high cliff, the young man was encouraged by shouts of "Jump, jump, jump!", and was congratulated and subsequently portrayed in a brave and positive light having carried out the dangerous activity.

This article was written by George Willis.

For more information, please contact George on +44 (0)20 7427 6691 or george.willis@crsblaw.com.