Poundland's dirty elves: why the retailer isn't backing down on smut

Bargain store has taken steps to avoid a repeat of last year's ASA investigation.

On the back of significant public demand, Poundland has brought back its "naughty elf", Elfie, for another December full of low-rent double entendres – and this time he has a girlfriend, Elvie.

The first edition of the campaign, in the run-up to Christmas 2017, resulted in a ban from the Advertising Standards Authority after 85 people complained that Twitter posts featuring photos of an elf toy in sexually suggestive positions were offensive.

But after the campaign helped Poundland boost pre-Christmas trading, the filthy festive folk creatures are back with more visual gags about baubles, washing machines, camels and Uranus.

Speaking to Campaign, Poundland’s Helen McTaggart – real job title of activity planning controller, informally known as "head of smut" – said that after the engagement of last year’s campaign, it was inevitable that Elfie would return.

The campaign resonated because "Christmas is as much for adults as kids", McTaggart said. "It’s cheeky, it’s a little bit of fun – we speak to them [our consumers] on their level, we don’t take ourselves too seriously."

She agreed that the brand benefited from higher-spending rivals taking their campaigns overly seriously. In comparison, she said, "we have to be quite thrifty and resourceful, and we’ve got quite a unique tone of voice".

While there have been no substantial changes to the content of this year’s campaign, Poundland has made some adjustments on the back of its ASA ruling: age-gating its posts on Facebook and marking its Twitter profile as adult content.

Alongside this, the big change this year is that activity is "a lot more planned". McTaggart explained: "We were very reactive last year – this time, we’ve tried to get ahead of the game this year." This means, for example, Poundland has increased its output engaging with cultural moments such as ITV's I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! with a post of the elves eating worms.

McTaggart admitted that the marketing team had been "thrilled and surprised in equal measures that we’ve not heard from them [the ASA] yet this time round". A spokesman for the ASA said it had received three complaints that were being assessed, but no investigation had been launched. Campaign understands that the steps taken by Poundland to prevent children from seeing its posts make an investigation less likely.

In terms of the negative reaction – including accusations of sexism – McTaggart reiterated that the vast majority of responses the brand received had been positive, adding that the campaign had been developed by a largely female team.

"It definitely wasn’t our intention to upset or offend anyone," she said. "Ultimately, there will always be someone who doesn’t get our sense of humour."

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