Amazon has sparked outrage by defending the use of the word "cunt" in a product image used by a retailer on its website, arguing that it was featured in a "light-hearted" way that was not likely to offend any particular group, such as women.

The Advertising Standards Authority banned an internet ad which appeared on for a Christmas card which featured the text: "You're a cunt. Sorry, I meant to say 'Merry Christmas'."

In its ruling the ASA said it was banning the ad under harm and offence rules in the advertising code, on the grounds that it was likely to cause serious or widespread offence.

In a submission to the ASA Amazon said that it should not have been banned because "the card was not offensive, aggressive or lewd in its message. It was meant as a bit of light-hearted, irreverent fun".

Amazon said that the wording of the card "did not target any particular group, nor was it likely to cause offence to any particular race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age".

However, Nicola Mendelsohn, chairman of ad agency Karmarama and one of the most senior women in UK advertising, said she was stunned at Amazon's attitude.

"It is one of the most vulgar, dreadful words and I'm really surprised that Amazon don't think it is offensive to people, to women," she said. "Germaine Greer said it is one of the few remaining words in the English language with the genuine power to shock."

Amazon said that just because a "small minority" might find the word offensive the product should not be banned from being made available for the "wider public" to buy.

"The humour might not be to everybody's taste [but] the subjective values of a small minority who might find it distasteful should not dictate a product's availability or the method of its advertisement to the wider public," the company said in its submission to the ASA.

Amazon also queried whether the ASA should be ruling on the card at all, as it was a product not an ad.

The ASA said that the product listing was an advertisement and therefore it was "entirely appropriate" to investigate the complaint that it was inappropriate and offensive., the company behind the card and the ad, said that as the BBC had broadcast a documentary devoted to the word it was acceptable for the company to use it in its advertising.

The company added that the documentary, The History of the C-Word, broadcast on BBC3 in 2007, used the word repeatedly and reached a bigger audience than its ads.

SYM said that because the word was used with a "positive qualifier" – Merry Christmas – it "could convey a positive sense of the person or object referred to".

However, the ASA said that consumer research showed that the use of the word was "so likely to offend it should not be used at all in marketing communications even when it was relevant to the name of the product".

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[Photo of Amazon logo via AFP]

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