Ad Standards has upheld complaints against two Honey Birdette ads which featured a model in sheer lingerie and a cigar in her mouth.
From the complaint:
The advertisement sexualises and objectifies women, by showing a woman in sheer lingerie (therefore virtually naked) with a cigar in her open mouth, suggestive of fellatio. It is pornographic and its forced exposure on women in the public space constitutes sexual harassment. The audience for this pornographic ad also includes children, who research indicates are harmed through exposure to pornographic, sexualised and objectifying representations of women. It also sexualises smoking and promotes it to an all-ages audience.
In response, Honey Birdette branded the community member who objected to the pornographic shopping centre image “ridiculous” – and once again, Ad Standards passed along the insult to the complainant. (You can read about Honey Birdette’s history of abusing and intimidating those who object to their pornified representations of women here and here.)
Honey Birdette responded:
We do not sell cigars so have no interest in their ‘promotion’ as the complainant claims. To assert that picturing a woman with a cigar is automatically suggestive of fellatio is ridiculous ... Smoking is also something that can be widely observed in public spaces around Australia on a daily basis.
Ad Standards ruled that the advertisement was “not overtly sexual” and not inappropriate for an audience that included children, being on display in a shopping centre.
While Ad Standards justified the objectifying image, and children’s exposure to it, they took issue with its promotion of smoking:
While the community tolerates a level of smoking it does not tolerate images which promote smoking as glamorous or fashionable. The Panel considered that the image is positive and aspirational and presents smoking in a positive light. The Panel noted that smoking of any kind is generally viewed as contravening prevailing community standards.
Honey Birdette sexploitation highlights failed system of ad industry self-regulation
So what happens now? Absolutely nothing. The ads that were found to be in breach of the Code were permitted to remain on display, and there are no penalties for Honey Birdette and nothing to stop them from doing it again.
To date, Ad Standards has upheld complaints against a whopping 61 Honey Birdette ads. But their rulings – when they actually uphold complaints about porn-inspired ads broadcast to children – are meaningless, because they can’t be enforced.
We have exposed the many failings of ad industry self-regulation for more than a decade. Under the current system, advertisers (like Honey Birdette) are permitted to display sexist and porn-themed content to children with no consequences.
In 2011 in the government report ‘Reclaiming Public Space’, the ad industry was put on notice that it had one last chance to clean up its act. That was 11 years ago, and nothing has changed.
This is why we’re calling on supporters to contact your candidate in the lead up to the election and ask them to take action to stop sexist advertising. Let us know if they respond. Click here to find your candidate.