Two print ads for KFC have been banned after the ASA agreed with complaints that it had substituted the word ‘Cluck’ for ‘Fuck’ during a recent campaign.

A poster displayed at bus stops and other locations during September featured the phrase “What the cluck?! £1.99 fill up lunch” while print ads in the Metro and the Sun were identical except one featured the elongated word “cluuuuuck”.

Complainants said the word ‘cluck’ had been substituted in place of an expletive making them offensive, while they were also inappropriate as they were displayed where children could see them.

KFC disagreed that ‘cluck’ was a substitute for ‘fuck’ and said the phrase ‘what the cluck?’ represented the customers’ response to a great value KFC deal.

They added ‘cluck’ was used as an onomatopoeic reference to the noise of a chicken, which was in context and wholly relevant to the deal, the product featured and the brand.

It also said the ad did not use the word ‘fuck’ and they “did not believe there was any ambiguity in the typeface or arrangement of the wording in the ad which could have allowed for it to be interpreted as an expletive.”

It also said it was “unlikely that children would make any connection between ‘cluck’ and ‘fuck’ given the clear typeface they used and would more likely connect it with the sound made by a chicken and that no ad was displayed within 200 metres of schools.

The ASA said it “understood that the use of the word ‘cluck’ was a reference to the sound a chicken and was relevant to the product being advertised”.

It also acknowledged the ad did not contain the word ‘fuck’ and said it recognised that there were several variations of the ‘what the…’ expression, all commonly used to denote surprise or outrage, and not all of which finished with an expletive.

However, it said the written word ‘cluck’ was used in the poster and press ads and we considered people would interpret that as alluding specifically to the expression, ‘what the fuck’.

It added that fuck was a word “so likely to offend that it should not generally be used or alluded to in advertising” and “considered it likely that parents may want their children to avoid the word, or obvious allusions to it. The poster was likely to be seen by people of all ages and while we recognised that the press ads would have a primarily adult audience, they could still be seen by children.”

For these reasons it has banned the ad from appearing again and warned KFC to avoid alluding to expletives again in any promotional material.