But the Ad Standards Panel still doesn't get it
We've spent years dealing with the Ad Standards Panel and have written extensively on the flaws of ad industry self-regulation. The advertising industry uses self-regulation to its commercial advantage, to the detriment of the community and women and girls in particular.
This is most evident in the scores of case reports detailing decisions made by the Panel to dismiss complaints about sexualised advertising.
But industry self-regulation is such an abysmal failure that even when the Panel does uphold complaints about sexualised advertising, they still reinforce the idea that sexually objectifying women is acceptable as long as it is "relevant" to the product being sold by an advertiser, even if the product itself sexually objectifies women.
In other words, profits come first, women and girls second.
Honey Birdette's pink bondage wear shopping centre ad campaign
A recent case report about Honey Birdette concerned two images. In the first image, a woman wears pink bondage lingerie while sitting on a car with her legs spread. The second image features the woman wearing the same bondage apparel, leaning against the side of a car.
The Panel upheld complaints against the ad campaign based on the first image, finding it to be "highly sexualised" and "similar to those stereotypically seen in a men’s magazine or calendar" and therefore "not appropriate for a display in a shopping centre where the relevant audience is broad and would include children." For these reasons the image was found to be a breach of Section 2.4 of the advertising code of conduct.
But the Panel did not consider the ad to be a breach of Section 2.2 which concerns the use "sexual appeal in a manner that is exploitative or degrading."
On the question of whether the image was "exploitative" the Panel made these claims:
"...the woman is depicted with her legs apart and that this pose may be considered to be gratuitous, however considered that the underwear has a zipper detail that is the focus."
"...while the woman is wearing lingerie the focus of the advertisement is not irrelevantly on her body or body parts but rather on the details of the lingerie."
On the basis of this "zipper detail," the panel concluded the image was not "exploitative" and because "the depiction of the woman was relevant to the promotion of lingerie" the panel also concluded the image was not degrading.
That is not a zipper and ad industry self-regulation is not independent or impartial as they like to claim
The "zipper detail" which justified the ad because it was the "focus" is not a zipper at all. The underpants worn by the model contain a split down the front panel which is held together by two hooks.
How can the "zipper detail" be of such "focus" if the Panel failed to see that what they were actually looking at is two hooks and partially exposed genitals?
The Panel again referred to the "zipper detail" when it determined the second image did not breach section 2.2 or section 2.4 of the code. The Panel falsely claimed "her genitals are fully covered" and asserted an intent on Honey Birdette's behalf - "her pose is intended to highlight the zipper feature of the underwear."
The Panel also claimed the image is "not sexualised" and "the impression of the advertisement is one of a strong woman leaning on a vehicle that is stereotypically associated with males."
The Panel didn't explain why a woman would be photographed in a desert setting, dressed in bondage apparel while leaning against a vehicle "stereotypically associated with males," or why this would make her "strong." But it was precisely this context which caused the first image to breach the code for being "similar to those stereotypically seen in a men’s magazine or calendar."
It is important to note that Honey Birdette made no mention of a "zipper detail" in its response to Ad Standards. Honey Birdette's one paragraph response defended its brand in general terms, claiming to "empower women."
The Ad Standards Panel - a supposed independent and impartial adjudicator of advertising complaints - simply made up a defence on Honey Birdette's behalf and on the basis of this fiction, decided the first image was not "exploitative or degrading" and the second image neither "exploitative or degrading" or "inappropriate for a broad audience that would include children."
And it's not the first time they've done this.
Previous Ad Standards Panel case reports show the Panel openly advocating for Honey Birdette, asserting an "intent" on its behalf and supplying imagined justifications for sexist and objectifying imagery, even when Honey Birdette has not responded.
"The Ultimate Bondage Babe"
In the absence of a response from Honey Birdette, the Ad Standards Panel decided the "Ultimate bondage babe" ad on Instagram (a platform for ages 13+), showing a mostly naked woman in g-string, suspenders, with the side of her breast and her entire buttocks visible was "intended to evoke a feeling of strength", and that the choice to exclude the woman's face from the sexualised image was "not an attempt to suggest she is an object...but rather a creative choice relating to the theme and style of the photograph."
And on this basis they dismissed complaints.
"Honey Birdette Airlines"
The Ad Standards Panel claimed an ad showing a woman in lingerie grabbing and caressing a flight attendant did not depict "...sexual stimulation or suggestive behaviour." Honey Birdette did not respond to the complaint, but the Panel did make a contradictory claim about Honey Birdette's intent - "the phrase‘Have a mile-high affair’ is a "well known reference to sex on a plane" however it was used "in relation to the airport theme of the advertisement."
The "Honey Birdette Airlines" ad campaign, featuring still images and video, was described by flight attendants as 'making their job harder' for the way it objectifies them and "reinforces negative stereotypes and attitudes towards women in the airline industry."
The Secretary of the Flight Attendants Association of Australia Jo Ann Davidson also said “...suggestive advertising portraying cabin crew as part of the product they’re selling sends wrong messages and puts cabin crew at risk of sexual harassment and abuse.”
But the Ad Standards Panel decided this was an "unlikely interpretation" and dismissed complaints.
"BDSM, Bondage lingerie and Hand cuffs"
In response to complaints about close up shots of women's body parts in bondage apparel displayed in shopping centre windows, the Panel downplayed the sexually explicit nature of the product, avoiding language Honey Birdette uses to describe their own product such as "bondage lingerie," "BDSM Lingerie," and "Hand cuffs."
Honey Birdette failed to respond so the Panel made up an "intent" on Honey Birdette's behalf - "the focus of the advertisement was on the product being promoted" and "the close-up nature of the advertisement was to focus on the detail of the product."
And on this basis they dismissed the complaints.
Honey Birdette lashes out, claims it will "implode sexism" with more sexualised ads
Honey Birdette doesn't usually respond to Ad Standards Panel determinations, leaving the Panel to say at the end of these reports "Ad Standards will continue to work with the advertiser and other industry bodies regarding this issue of non-compliance."
But this time Honey Birdette has responded, claiming it intends to "implode sexism" with more sexualised ads.
Why does the Ad Standards Panel continue to provide imagined justifications and intentions on behalf of Honey Birdette when Honey Birdette's intention to repeatedly violate advertising standards couldn't be more clear?
And how exactly is the Panel working with the advertiser, other than to act as its defence counsel, when people complain about Honey Birdette's sexualised ads?
Read the case report here.
The advertisement as seen at Westfield Chermside. (left) The image on the right also breached Ad Standards.