Who: Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Missguided Ltd (Missguided)
Where: United Kingdom
When: 4 March 2020
Law stated as at: 23 March 2020
The ASA received complaints in relation to two ads promoting Missguided on the London Underground and a train platform, as follows:
- the first features a model wearing a short pink wrap dress, which showed her cleavage and her legs (from mid-thigh) posing on a sofa; and
- the second showed the same model leaning against a console table wearing an unbuttoned jacket with nothing underneath, sheer tights and high heels.
The complainants challenged whether the ads were overly sexualised, objectified women and whether the ad was appropriate to be seen by children.
Missguided submitted that the ads:
- had complied with a “stringent” approval process, including from external media agencies and the CAP (Committee of Advertising Practice) Copy Advice team;
- were similar to other ads in the fast-fashion industry and in keeping with industry norms; and
- that promoting and encouraging female empowerment was extremely important, so the outfits were designed to be memorable and enable customers to stand out from the crowd and be bold and brave.
In addition, media owner Global Outdoor has reviewed the ads in accordance with its own guidelines and checked with the CAP Copy Advice team, who believed the ads were likely to be acceptable.
The ASA ruled that:
- The complaints against the first ad were not upheld. The ASA stated that the ad was “mildly sexual” but was “likely to be in keeping with how the dress would ordinarily be worn” and “the focus of the ad was on the model in general and on the featured dress, rather than on a specific part of her body“. The ASA acknowledged that some people may find “the ad distasteful and the clothing revealing” but this was “unlikely to be seen as overtly as objectifying either the model in the ad or women in general“. Therefore, the ad was held as unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.
- The complaints against the second ad were upheld. This was on the basis that the model was wearing nothing under the jacket, which “exposed the side of her breast, and which was coupled with sheer tights, sheer gloves and underwear” and the model “would be seen as being in a state of undress and that the focus was on her chest area and lower abdomen rather than the clothing being advertised“. In addition, the ASA flagged that the pose was sexually suggestive as “her head was tilted back, with her mouth slightly open, and her leg was bent and raised“. As such, the “the sexually suggestive styling and pose would be seen as presenting women as sexual objects“.
Why this matters:
As many ads walk the tightrope between empowerment and objectification, the ruling provides some indication as to how the ASA may view ads with potentially sexually suggestive elements. The key factors to takeaway in this specific ruling include: whether a model is seen as “in a state of undress” or in the outfit as it “would ordinarily be worn”; whether a pose is “sexually suggestive” or “no more than mildly sexual“; and whether the focus is on a specific body part (“chest area and lower abdomen“) rather than the product being advertised or the focus being on “the model in general and on the featured dress“.
The ruling is also a great reminder that the ASA is not bound by any advice provided by the CAP Copy Advice team (or previous rulings). Therefore, while the CAP Copy Advice team provide a fantastic service to advertisers with insight as to how an ad may be assessed, ads can still fall foul of the CAP Code even when ‘approved’ by the CAP Copy Advice team.