Most recently, the Southern Cross – a Greene King pub in Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire – displayed a blackboard that has been described as “shameful” after it appeared to advertise naked waitresses.
In bold, the sign at first appeared to read “naked waitresses flirt with you”, because the key words were much larger, however, what it actually said is “the naked truth about our waitresses is they only flirt with you to get a better tip”.
Just before this, the George Pub and Grill, County Durham, was slammed for its “appalling advert” posted on its Facebook page, which asked "Would you punch your ex in the face?" in exchange for a snack.
The pub was told to take the post down by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), after ruling that it trivialised domestic violence.
And in June, a publican had to defend artwork at his establishment – The Top Lock – which was criticised for its “here’s to wives and girlfriends. Let’s hope they never meet” sign on the wall.
However, owner Mike Hales said there had only been one real complaint, and the rest of his customers loved them – and knew it was just a bit of fun.
Speaking to Gazette Live, a spokesman for the Southern Cross also said its sign was intended to be “light-hearted”, but said on reflection it “understands it was offensive” and took it down.
So, where is the line between fun and offensive?
Although ASA does not have any rules for pubs specifically, it said it expects all advertisers to prepare their ads with a sense of “responsibility to consumers and society”.
When making a decision on whether an advert is likely to cause widespread offence, ASA takes into account: the audience that is likely to see it; the context in which it appears; the product it is promoting; and prevailing standards in society.
“Ads must not cause serious or widespread harm or use approaches that are likely to encourage socially irresponsible behaviour,” advised a spokesman for ASA.
“Upheld decisions can result in widespread adverse publicity for the company concerned, and marketers can be required to have posters pre-vetted by CAP’s Copy Advice team for two years if they publish an offensive poster.”
Association of Multiple Licensed Retailers (ALMR) chief executive Kate Nicholls said ASA also has rules that cover promotional marketing and specific guidelines on the promotion of alcohol. She advised businesses to consult ASA’s website if they think they are going to fall foul of these rules.
“Venues should also take care when promoting their businesses via social media,” Nicholls continued.
“Licensing officers monitor social media and businesses should make sure they avoid any claims about excessive drinking or drunkenness.
“In most cases, businesses should just exercise a degree of common sense. An unusual advert may go viral and increase the venue’s exposure, but that exposure may not be positive.”
A spokesman for the British Beer & Pub Association agreed, and said: “It's a reminder that ASA can intervene, even at the level of an individual pub, for advertising that may cause offence.
“The code says that particular care must be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age.
“Most venues would appreciate this and take a common-sense approach.”