Pussy Drinks Ltd pretends not to know why people complained about its adverts

"They said the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) stated that a pussy was 'a cat, particularly a kitten' and that was the correct meaning of the word. . . They said the inspiration for the product and white can design was a gorgeous white pussycat owned by a

An ad campaign for an energy drink has just been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority for featuring posters with the word "pussy" in large type, with the strapline "The drink's pure, it's your mind that's the problem".

The ASA recieved almost 160 complaints over it - some of which said the campaign was offensive to women, some of which said the campaign was unsuitable for children. However, the defence that Pussy Drinks Ltd came up with shows such commitment that it needs to be run in full here (with my emphasis):

1. & 2. Pussy Drinks Ltd considered it ironic that complaints had been made about offence caused, given that their posters clearly stated that the drink was pure and it was the mind of the viewer that was the problem. They said the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) stated that a pussy was "a cat, particularly a kitten" and that was the correct meaning of the word. They said cats possessed all the appropriate symbolism for their product and Pussy was cool, beautiful, feline and natural, with attitude, which explained their choice of name. They stated that until the OED changed the meaning of the word, they defended their right to advertise their product. They questioned why the complainants were automatically referring to the slang meaning of what they believed to be an innocent word. They said it was not their intention to offend, that the slang meaning of the word was not one that they had created, and that any problems were only caused by those who were twisting the meaning of an innocent word.

JC Decaux said they had received one complaint directly. The complainant had found the poster offensive and said there had been a great deal of discussion about the issue on social media sites.

3. They questioned which religion would be specifically offended by Pussy. They said the ancient Egyptians used to worship cats. They felt that people of a religious disposition tended to occupy an idyllic place away from the crassness that sadly existed in mainstream society and therefore felt it was surprising that the complaints had been made.

4. & 5. The advertisers questioned whether the complaints were from children and believed the complaints were from adults with an adult perspective on the slang meaning of the word. They felt that the complainants were assuming that children were aware of the slang meaning, and if that was the case, they considered it was likely that the children had heard the slang meaning from those adults, who now claimed they wished to protect those children. They stated that, to a child, a pussy was a cat or kitten and did not consider that was offensive. They said the inspiration for the product and white can design was a gorgeous white pussycat owned by a family member as a child.

6. The advertisers did not provide any further comments about the website content specifically.

This sort of tactic is fairly common, and is often used by companies like Ryanair (such as in this case) and Paddy Power (here). It illustrates how difficult it currently is for advertising watchdogs to do their jobs properly -  all they are able to do is stop the adverts, by which time it’s too late and the company has benefited from the “edgy” reputation from the ban.

The ASA ruled that the ads must not appear again in their current form, which is this:

Hmmm. Well that's enough of that.

What? Photograph: Getty Images
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Want your team to succeed? Try taking a step back

From the boardroom to the sports ground, managers need to step back for creativity to thrive.

Everyone is in favour of creativity, usually at the expense of creative people. The concept is in perpetual boom. Give us creative midfielders, creative leadership, creative solutions, creative energy. It’s with the “how” that the problems start – with extra meetings and meddling, over-analysis and prescriptiveness, whiteboards and flow charts. Professional systems rarely support the creativity that they allegedly seek. The creativity industry system is at odds with its stated goals.

The novel was an early casualty. Nothing makes me close a book more quickly and finally than the creeping realisation that the author is following a narrative map purchased on an American creative writing course. Life is too short for competent novels. The creativity industry pulls up the worst while dragging down the best.

Something similar happens inside professional sport, even though creativity is so obviously linked to performance and profit. Yet sport, especially English sport, has suffered from excessive managerialism. Perhaps guilt about English sport’s amateur legacy gave “professionalism” free rein, however pedestrian its form.

Here is sport’s problem with creativity: professional systems crave control, but creativity relies on escaping control. If an attacking player doesn’t know what he is going to do next, what chance does the defender have?

So when truly unexpected moments do happen, they take on a special lustre. This month, Olivier Giroud scored an unforgettable goal for Arsenal. Bearing down on the goal, he was already launched in mid-air when he realised that the cross was well behind him. With his body far ahead of his feet, Giroud clipped the ball to the top corner of the net with the outside of his left ankle – a so-called scorpion kick.

It was, in retrospect, the only option available to him. Football, for a moment, touched the arts – not only beautiful, but also complete. Nothing could have been added or taken away.

I once tried to compare the perfect cricket shot to Robert Frost’s celebrated description of writing a poem: “It begins in delight, it inclines to the impulse, it assumes direction with the first line laid down, it runs a course of lucky events, and ends in a clarification . . . Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting.”

A great goal, however, fits that poetic model better than a cricket shot. Cricket shots come in many aesthetic grades, but they are all intended as shots. A goal, on the other hand, is more than just a very good pass, only better. There is an act of transformation within the event.

Frost’s acknowledgment of luck (distinct here from fluke) neatly defuses the accusation. Saying that a great goal involved luck does not to diminish it. Many unearned factors must interact with the skill.

“But did he mean it?” some people have wondered about Giroud’s goal. That isn’t the point, either. There wasn’t time. Giroud had solved the problem – to make contact with the ball, however possible, directing it towards the goal – before he was fully conscious of it. That doesn’t make it an accident. The expertise of a striker, like that of a writer, is opportunistic. He puts himself in positions where his skills can become productive. It is a honed ability to be instinctive. “If I’d thought about it, I never would have done it,” as Bob Dylan sings on “Up to Me”, an out-take from Blood on the Tracks.

Pseudo-intellectual? Quite the reverse. There is nothing pretentious about recognising and protecting creativity in sport. Over-literal decoding is the greater threat: instinctive performance needs to be saved from team meetings, not from intellectuals.

Having described a creative goal as unplanned – indeed, impossible to plan – what can coaches do to help? They can get out of the way, that’s a good start. It is no coincidence that the teams of Arsène Wenger, who is sometimes criticised for being insufficiently prescriptive, score more than their fair share of wonder goals.

The opposite arrangement is bleak. A friend of mine, a fly-half in professional rugby union, retired from the game when his coaches told him exactly which decisions to make in the first six phases of every attacking move. In effect, they banned him from playing creatively; they wanted rugby by numbers.

Not everything can be rehearsed. One useful book for coaches scarcely mentions sport – Inside Conducting, by the conductor Christopher Seaman. “I’ve never had much sympathy for conductors who ‘program’ an orchestra at rehearsal,” Seaman writes, “and then just run the program during the performance. There is much more
to it than that.”

Dan Vettori, the rising star among cricket’s Twenty20 coaches, is rare for having the bravery to echo Seaman’s theory. He believes that cricketers are more likely to play well when they feel slightly underprepared. It’s a risk and a fine balance – but worth it.

As I explored here last month in the context of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, there is a danger of slotting players into false stereotypes and classifications. Giroud, for example, is slow. Slow yet athletic. That’s an unusual combination and partly explains why he is underrated.

We often think of pace as the central and definitive aspect of athleticism. But speed is just one component of total athletic ability (leave to one side footballing skill). Giroud has an outstanding vertical jump, power and great balance. Because he is big and slow, those athletic gifts are harder to spot.

Management systems overestimate both labels and top-down tactics. A braver policy, pragmatic as well as aesthetic, is to be less controlling: allow opportunity to collide with skill, directed by an open, expert and uncluttered mind. l

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge