After years of Collective Shout campaigning, the Advertising Standards Board has announced long awaited changes to the AANA Code of Ethics regarding the use of sexual appeal in advertising.
Figure 1: An example of sexually exploitative advertising permitted in public spaces under the current system.
Previously, under section 2.2 of the code, advertisements were in breach if they were found to be both exploitative and degrading. An advertisement deemed simply exploitative was not in breach. From March, updates to the code mean the use of sexual appeal in advertising cannot be exploitative or degrading.
Collective Shout welcomes this revision of the code. While this is a positive step, there is much more still to be done in order to effectively regulate sexist and sexually objectifying advertising.
While the ASB claims most companies comply with advertising codes and rulings, we’ve spent years documenting and exposing serial offenders such as Honey Birdette, UltraTune and Wicked Campers - companies who continually exploit the weaknesses in the current system of self-regulation to promote their products and services. There is still a long way to go, and we’re not backing down any time soon.
Honey Birdette sexploitation highlights Ad Standards Board incompetence.
The Advertising Standards Board has upheld complaints against Honey Birdette’s sexist ‘Office Party’ advertisements, featuring fully clothed men in suits alongside lingerie clad women. However, this ruling accomplishes very little, given Honey Birdette replaced this ad over a month ago with their “Sorry Kids, we gave Santa the night off” ads depicting Santa spanking a model.
This latest development only serves to highlight the Advertising Standards Board’s ongoing failure to adequately regulate sexist advertising, and the willingness of stores like Honey Birdette to exploit an ineffective system of advertising regulation.
In response to this issue, Collective Shout supporter and petition starter Kenneth Thor has taken the fight against Honey Birdette sexploitation and the ASB’s inability to address it to members of parliament. In a letter to Victoria MP Rachel Carling Jenkins, Kenneth has highlighted the many failings of the Advertising Standards Board:
Pic credit MTR/Caters Media
I write to ask for your support in putting an end to porn-style advertising being allowed in family friendly shopping centres and amending the current legislation (or lack of) around Advertising Standards.
Serial offenders like Honey Birdette exploit broken advertising system
The Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) has upheld no less than 9 out of 21 complaint case reports against Honey Birdette over the years. Honey Birdette have been ordered to take down highly sexualised and offensive posters from their shop windows, but they replace them with something just as bad or worse.
In this current system, as long as the advertiser takes down the ad eventually (in their own good time), it is registered by the ASB as a compliance. It does not matter if the replacement advertising is as bad or worse, it is considered a separate ad and requires a new set of complaints to be lodged. For example, in the last 5 months, they have been ordered to replace 4 ads!
Each case report consists of multiple complaints and requires the arduous effort of lodging complaints, waiting, sending in photo evidence, waiting up to 3 months, while the damage is already done. The worst thing is, there is nothing stopping the advertiser from breaching the code again. They can go through this process every day for the next ten years and the ASB will still register them as compliant, and the ASB can still boast about how effective self-regulation is with a 100% compliance rate. It is the biggest joke.
Honey Birdette has been ordered to remove objectifying ads in a recent ASB ruling:
Overall, in the ASB's view, the advertisement did breach Section 2.4 of the Code which states that "Advertising or Marketing Communications shall treat sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience. Finding that Honey Birdette's advertisement did breach this section of the code, the ABS upheld the complaints that it received.
In another related win, The Adelaide Advertiser has reported that Rundle Mall Myer Centre manager Peter Lee has told Honey Birdette that their shopping centre will not allow these ads. Mr Lee has said:
“We have been liaising with the retailer’s national office in this regard and have requested the current posters be removed from display as soon as possible”
“They'd never be able to use those images in prime time to advertise, so why do I have to subject my young son to that imagery when all I wanted was to go get him some new shoes for preschool?”
For the month of July, the most highly reported offender was Honey Birdette, with eight separate complaints received. We had many parents reach out to us outlining how their children were confused and shocked by the new larger than life semi-nude posters that cover the store frontage. We have long reported on issues with Honey Birdette - including the sexploitation of their own staff. Their latest extremely racy and highly inappropriate advertisements at shopping centres throughout Australia have caused a huge stir and outrage among the general publicRead more
Writing for ABC Religion and Ethics, Melinda Tankard Reist has called out the lack of action from the Australian government on sexist advertising.
What is the point of government-funded programs in schools to teach boys how to respect girls, while the government remains complacent in a broader culture that is wallpapered with images that teach them disrespect?
If you are looking for legal services in the Brisbane area you may want to give Logan Law a miss. Their sexist advertising has lead to complaints to the Advertising Standards Board, who have subsequently dismissed the complaints. (Probably because there is nothing in the code of ethics to address sexism)
One of their advertisements is a Faceboook post for legal services offered by Logan Law using innuendos relating to having a vehicle hit another vehicle from behind with hashtags such as "#steveo #hollyweed #loganlaw #smashedhardfrombehind #coppedoneinthebumper #beenrearendedlately #penetratingbrisbane #takenoneinthetailpipe".
The complainant said:
The majority of Logan Law's advertising has extreme sexual connotations and this is not limited to their Facebook posts, this also includes billboards seen around Brisbane which are promoted in an incredibly unprofessional manner. I find their advertising highly inappropriate.
When will changes be made to the failed advertising self regulation system?
In December last year Honey Birdette released a series of posters for display in their shop windows around the country. Consumers lodged their complaints with the Advertising Standards Board who eventually determined that two of the four posters did in fact breach the code of ethics.
Honey Birdette have repeatedly breached the code of ethics. But there are no penalties for repeat offenders. And by the time the ASB made their determination in January, the posters had already been up for weeks, and had since been replaced by the next months promotional signage.
How many children were exposed to these harmful images in the meantime? Why must families doing their weekly grocery shop continually be exposed to hyper-sexualised content against their will?
We've outlined 25 flaws to the current self regulatory system here.
Contact your MP regarding the flaws in the current system.Read more
The Board noted the advertised product is clothing and considered that it was not exploitative to use a woman wearing the advertised product. The Board noted that the woman is shown to lift her top up and expose her stomach. The Board noted the complainant’s concern that by showing a woman in the act of undressing the advertisement presents the woman as a sexual object.
The Board noted that the tagline, which features across each image and covers the woman’s torso, says “Everything 50-70% off” and considered that the woman’s partial removal of her clothing is a physical demonstration of this rather than a suggestion that the woman is a stripper.
The Board acknowledged that some members of the community would prefer that female models were not used to advertise clothing in this manner but considered that in the context of a clothing sale the images of the woman lifting her top to reveal a naked stomach and back were not exploitative and/or degrading of this, or any other, woman.
Advertising code of ethics must change!
Sign the petition to change advertising standards here.
The Board noted that in order to be in breach of this section of the Code the image would need to use sexual appeal in a manner that is both exploitative and degrading.
The Board noted the advertised product is lingerie and considered that the pose of the woman is not necessary to promote the product and in the Board’s view this depiction of a woman bending slightly to look in a mirror so that her bottom is towards the viewer is exploitative.
The Board noted that the woman in the advertisement is viewed from behind as she leans in towards a mirror on a dressing table and considered that while only the bottom half of her head is visible in the Board’s view the focus is on the lingerie and the overall image is not degrading to this, or any other, woman.Read more
"Sexism is not always obviously violent, exploitative or degrading. It can be unintended or disguised innocently as humour, but it is always insidious, offensive to and exclusionary of its victims."
In Australia we have a self regulatory advertising system. This system is in place to (supposedly) ensure that "advertisements and other forms of marketing communications are legal, decent, honest and truthful and that they have been prepared with a sense of obligation to the consumer and society and a sense of fairness and responsibility to competitors."
As part of this system a 'code of ethics' was drawn up. Each time a complaint is made the Advertising Standards Board goes back to this code to see if the ad is in breach of one or more of the codes. But how effective can the code of ethics be when it completely ignores sexism?Read more