Thanks to what happened to poor Salman Rushdie, it's easy to brand Islamic clerics as having the dourest of faces in the religion business. & #BANNER1 & # The Mullahs may or may not be the most touchy about religion but leaders from other Semitic religions fare no better, when it comes to having a sense of humour, or rather, its absence.
Consider, what happened to Schering Health Care, which manufactures Levonelle One Step, a well-known birth control pill brand in Europe. The company had come up with a poster, which used the term 'immaculate contraception', obviously punning on the Roman Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
The full wording of the advert, which appeared on the London Underground, an UK-based publication, read: "Immaculate contraception? If only. It might be Christmas time, but condoms still split and pills still get forgotten. So if your contraception lets you down, ask your pharmacist for Levonelle One Step. It's now just one pill that works best within 24 hours of unprotected sex, but can be taken up to 72 hours after. Available without a prescription."
But that poster for the morning-after pill had to be withdrawn following a flood of complaints from members of the public and Catholic groups. UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received some 180 objections. The figure, incidentally, was the highest for a non-broadcast advertisement this year in the UK.
While the advert's critics claimed that the term 'immaculate contraception' was offensive on religious grounds, Schering Health Care executives maintained the headline was intended as a play on words to indicate that no contraception method was perfect or foolproof, and that Levonelle was available in the event planned contraceptive methods failed.
The company also tendered an apology and took immediate action to remove posters from the London Underground, cancel press bookings and promised not to use the advert ever again.
The ASA, on its part, upheld the complaints, concluding the headline was "likely to cause serious or widespread offence". It also said the term "immaculate contraception" was likely to be seen as a pun on the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. The watchdog, however, rejected a second area of complaint that the poster was "irresponsibleā€¯ because it could "encourage casual sex and trivialised unwanted pregnancyā€¯.
But why blame the Church alone? US television star Sarah Jessica Parker of Sex and the City fame was recently ordered to cover up after an Israeli billboard advert offended the country's ultra-orthodox Jews.
The star of risque sitcom Sex and the City is known around the world for her glamorous gowns and chi-chi heels. But conservative Jews were so offended by the bare flesh in a Lux soap advert that Rabbis called for a mass boycott by the orthodox community.
The original poster for Lux, one of the leading soap brands in Israel, showed Parker in a strappy, backless gown familiar to fans of her role as sex columnist Carrie Bradshaw in the TV show. The short dress barely covered her bottom and the actress' upper thigh was clearly visible.
For Israel's ultra-orthodox Jews, who follow strict rules forbidding women from wearing immodest clothes, the poster was a bit too much to stomach, and they decided to clean up the spicy soap advert. Within 24 hours, a senior Rabbi contacted the Israel office of consumer giant Unilever to threaten a boycott of the company's entire range of products.
Now, apart from Lux, Unilever sells Dove soap and a wide range of food and cleaning products in Israel. The company realised that it could not afford to antagonise the Rabbis. To cover the TV star's modesty, new posters were drawn up, clothing the star to the satisfaction of Rabbis.
In a week when Israel shivered under the first heavy rains of winter, a Unilever marketing manager had a novel explanation for the cover-up. "We decided to make her dress more suitable for the winter weather," the spokesperson quipped.
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