[*Updated*] Repeat offender untouchable under ad industry self regulation
Honey Birdette has rolled out a new porny ad campaign - before the self-regulated industry “watchdog” Ad Standards has even finished ruling on ads from its last campaign. In this latest show of ad industry self-regulation failure, the sex store’s upskirting and tennis-themed ads were bumped to make way for a new objectifying and porn-inspired casino-themed campaign - timed ahead of the opening of its new Las Vegas store - dubbed ‘Lucky Number’.
A video captured at a Lendlease shopping centre on May 13 shows a larger-than-life digital screen in Honey Birdette’s shop window, running a reel of porn inspired video shorts and still shots. In standard Honey Birdette style, the ads feature semi-naked women, writhing and posed for sex. One ad, titled ‘Belinda’, features a side-angle shot of a woman who (apart from a couple of straps and heels) appears naked from the waist down. Another, ‘Christine’, shows a woman lying on her back with her legs parted, wearing a sheer mesh bra and briefs. Slo-mo video shorts include a tight angle shot of a woman’s cleavage as she runs her hand across her breast; a near-naked woman lying on her side, writhing in a sexually suggestive manner; and an upward pan of a woman’s body as she runs her hand from her thigh to her neck.
But where is Ad Standards’ response to complaints against objectifying, porn-themed ads from Honey Birdette's last campaign - made by concerned community members more than a month ago?
And this one:
Ad Standards defends upskirting ads
A day after the new porny 'Lucky Number' ads were spotted, Ad Standards published its rulings on some of the ads from the previous campaign, including a range of upskirting ads broadcast to an all-age audience in Champions of Change-led shopping centres across the country during Easter school holidays. (Champions of Change are CEOs who claim to be eliminating workplace sexism and sexual harassment - we've been calling them out for their double standards for years.)
The women in the ads are ‘paid models’ and ‘aware of the photography’
Yes, they really said this. But how does the payment of models who consent to the photographs justify a sex industry proponent’s broadcasting of ads which clearly depict upskirting - an illegal, exploitative practice - in the public realm to an all-age audience which includes children, to flog lingerie? On that basis, any ad - no matter how graphic or abhorrent - could be justified. Would ads depicting gang rape be ok on the basis they were made with paid models?
Ad Standards dismissed complaints against this graphic, objectifying upskirting ad featured on Instagram
Watch: Former Honey Birdette employee describes being 'pimped out' for dates to secure sales
‘Sports result in a skirt becoming raised’
The other justification Ad Standards gave to defend Honey Birdette’s non-upskirting upskirting ads was that women playing sports like tennis will experience their ‘skirts becoming raised’. We’re baffled how a woman standing still in a receiving position on a tennis court - as is portrayed in one of the ads - could experience her ‘skirt becoming raised’, except with the assistance of a large, industrial-sized fan on the set to ensure the intended stylised image was captured on film. But even if such a gravity-defying event was possible, using this real-world example of real women playing real sport and getting caught out on camera with their skirts up and g-strings exposed doesn’t justify Honey Birdette’s use of upskirting to flog its strips of fabric masquerading as undies. It does the opposite - highlighting how vulnerable to exploitation women are when they participate in sport. Which is one of the very reasons we objected to Honey Birdette’s upskirting ads.
Thanks for proving our point, Ad Standards.
Porn-mimicry: Honey Birdette’s upskirt tennis themed ads resembled a 2018 Playboy spread
Ad Standards doesn’t know what upskirting is and ignores harms to women in sport
In its case report Ad Standards gave the following definition of upskirting:
'Upskirting’ is a term used to describe the act of taking a sexually intrusive photograph up someone’s skirt without their permission..it is usually performed in a public place, such as on public transport or in a nightclub, among crowds of people, making it harder to spot people taking the photos.
Meanwhile, there’s a significant demand by men for degrading and sexually exploitative imagery - specifically upskirting shots - of women in sport. Numerous websites are dedicated to upskirting videos and images of women and girls in sport, for example, upskirtcollection.com which hosts thousands of ‘tennis upskirt’ images. Porn site voyeurstyle.com hosts a video called ‘Sporty girls in tennis upskirt compilation’ promoted with the following description: ‘Enjoy amazing scenes of athletic asses in tight panties in this slideshow of tennis players on the court. Rare downblouse pictures are mixed in so you can ogle cleavage too.’ The 8-minute long video has been viewed 250k times. A Google search of ‘tennis upskirt’ returns 11.6k videos on porn site XVideos.
More intrusive than Ad Standards’ assertions, upskirting is not limited to public transport and nightclubs. It’s common, and women and girls are at risk of it everywhere, at all times. Women playing sport are particularly vulnerable to this degrading, exploitative and illegal act.
How could Ad Standards conclude that Honey Birdette’s upskirting ads were ‘not inappropriate for a display in a shopping centre where the relevant audience is broad and would include children’ (emphasis added)? Does it mean to endorse the grooming of men and women, boys and girls to view upskirting as normal and acceptable? Did it really buy Honey Birdette's claims that the ads were 'fun', 'uplifting', 'flirty' and about women's empowerment?
After more than a decade of campaigns and documenting the failures of ad industry self-regulation, we’re not easily surprised by Ad Standards’ rulings, but this time we are genuinely shocked. Upskirting is a crime, and making light of it in advertising only serves to normalise, sanitise and belittle it. Ad Standards’ endorsement of Honey Birdette's upskirting ads show just how ignorant of the harms of objectification, misaligned with community standards and out of touch with the current national discussions about sexual harassment, consent and the harms of porn culture it really is.
Revised Code of Ethics: What was the point?
Earlier this year, after a long, drawn out (and, we presume, costly) public consultation (read our submission here) and market research project, the ad industry rolled out its updated Code of Ethics. Some of its revisions were intended to rein in sexist and sexualised advertising. That the Code's component on 'overtly sexual content' doesn’t extend to upskirting imagery in ads proves the updated Code hasn't changed anything. Why did they bother?
Ad Standards rulings don't benefit the community
Even if Ad Standards had upheld complaints against Honey Birdette's upskirting ads, it has no power to enforce its (untimely) rulings. The ads would have run their course and been replaced with new porny ads with the launch of a new campaign. Which is exactly what happened. Meaning, Ad Standards' rulings on Honey Birdette's porn-inspired ads don't benefit the community members they are supposed to protect! Whether Ad Standards upholds complaints against Honey Birdette ads or not, the outcome for the community - a broad audience which includes children - is the same: perpetual exposure to a rotating reel of floor-to-ceiling porn inspired ads in their local 'family-friendly' shopping centres.
With or without Ad Standards' endorsement, Honey Birdette will continue to broadcast harmful, objectifying, porn-themed and even upskirting ads in our communities. Under advertising self-regulation, Honey Birdette is apparently untouchable, and continues to expose the self-regulation system of advertising in Australia as feeble and outdated.
This is typical of the disrespect Ad Industry self-regulation has for people who submit complaints.— Melinda (@MelLiszewski) May 10, 2021
This is the ad industry, they’ve got enough money to do better than this. Given the fast turnaround for ads why aren’t they meeting weekly? https://t.co/fn63ZUlb5v
For 7 years members of the public have been directed to ‘complain’ to Ad Standards about #HoneyBirdette’s #sexualharassment +porny ads in family friendly shopping centres. @champs_change— LSKennedy (@LSKennedy5) May 1, 2021
Can we agree @HoneyBirdette has no intention of complying with @AANA_says code of ethics? https://t.co/nMnT8kEIbY
Update May 28
Ad Standards has ruled two-of-four of these porn inspired Honey Birdette ads in breach of advertising Code of Ethics:
From its case report which you can read in full here:
[Image 2 and Image 3] The Panel considered that the woman is posed with her legs spread apart and noted that such a pose is described in the Practice Note as being overtly sexual. The Panel considered that while the pose of the woman may be intended to showcase the lace details of the underpants, it is not necessary to have her posed with her legs apart in the sexualised manner of the advertisement. The Panel considered that such an image is not appropriate for a display in a shopping centre where the relevant audience is broad and would include children.
Eight pages and six weeks to tell us what we already knew.
And it's too little, too late. Honey Birdette's newest batch of porn inspired ads - including a highly triggering bondage-choking themed video showing now in shopping centres across the country - was out well before Ad Standards' ruling. It's more proof that self regulated advertising is a failure, harming the community its supposed to protect. Anyone who cares about women and girls, and putting a stop to harmful ads which objectify women and eroticise violence against them to flog products should be calling for a new system.
Here's self-reg ad industry's new *costly* code of ethics in action:#HoneyBirdette's choke-the-woman vids eroticising violence against women, on public display for all-ages viewing in family friendly shopping centres across the country— Collective Shout (@CollectiveShout) May 27, 2021
New @AANA_says code is a FLOP pic.twitter.com/bXhXPGcgIe