A French jumper ad with a topless woman chatting to a sheep and a Belgian temp agency ad in which a naked 50 year old man signs up a secretary. What’s more offensive?
Topic: Sex in advertising
Who: Adecco, RTBF, La City and the BVPMP
Where: Belgium and France
For once, France has recently been shown to be less laissez-faire than its EU neighbours when it comes to nudity and sexuality in advertising. In Belgium, temporary employment placement specialists Adecco brought commercial broadcaster RTBF before the District Court of Brussels. Adecco wanted a court order requiring the station to carry an Adecco TV spot featuring an unattractive and overweight employer (actually a Brit) in his fifties doing a striptease in front of a young woman. He ends up wearing nothing but a temporary employment contract, which the woman signs.
Although various independent stations ran the ad, RTBF withdrew it after viewer complaints, but the court rejected RTBF’s arguments that the ad was immoral and encouraged sexual harassment in the workplace. The judge upheld Adecco’s "right to be humorous" and although the finding has been appealed by RTBF, it is undoubtedly a victory for free commercial speech.
In France on the other hand, the self regulatory ad watchdog the BVP has ordered the taking down of a poster advertising French clothing retailer La City. Featuring a near naked woman squatting doggie style but demurely photographed so as not to reveal too much. She is in a meadow facing a sheep, and the ad captions her as saying nothing more offensive than "I need a sweater."
The BVP move is part of a wider move by ministers and feminist groups against the undeniable rise in sexist imagery in French advertising. Proposals for legislation are threatened and a parliamentary roundtable has been held on sexual imagery in advertising.
Why this matters:
As ever, in areas like gender in advertising, cultural differences loom particularly large. But how much longer will it be before the Brussels mandarins feel impelled to investigate? One can imagine they are already asking: if most of Europe is using the same currency, is it too much to ask for there to be greater harmony across the Union when it comes to the portrayal of gender and nudity in advertising? The industry has it in its power to ward off this threat-perhaps a voluntary pan European Code might be a start.