Does Ad Standards have a problem with women?
Collective Shout has been exposing the failures of the advertising industry in Australia for more than a decade. The system of ad industry self-regulation allows advertisers to sexualise, objectify, degrade and demean women with the endorsement of Ad Standards.
In 2011, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs in its report ’Reclaiming public space' said the ad industry should be given one last chance to clean up its act. That was nine years ago, and nothing has changed.
Other countries recognise the connection between sexist advertising and real-life attitudes and behaviours. Many have taken meaningful action to prevent harmful sexist advertising, some even imposing significant financial penalties on advertisers who are in breach. Australia continues to lag behind.
We have compiled a selection of sexist, demeaning and anti-woman ads given the green light by Ad Standards. Advertising that demeans women is permitted on the basis that there is no nudity, imagery that sexually objectifies women is justified because the models appear confident or at least not in distress, and sex industry advertising is deemed to be appropriate for viewing by children. All of these ads have been permitted by Ad Standards.
These images were broadcast in Honey Birdette shopfront windows around the country. Ad Standards dismissed complaints, saying:
There was no sexualised context to the image, or suggestion that the woman is engaging in sexualised behaviour...
The majority of the Panel considered that children viewing the advertisement would view a woman standing in strappy lingerie, and would not view the advertisement as sexualised.
Wicked Campers, which function as mobile billboards, routinely broadcast sexist, sexually violent and pornographic slogans and imagery. Ad Standards' failure to enforce rulings led to states and territories around the country having to draft new legislation to deregister Wicked Campervans in violation of Ad Standards rulings. In response to complaints about this van, Ad Standards said:
The individual words used on the vehicle were not sexual or inappropriate.
In response to complaints that the ad discriminated against women by portraying them as stupid and needing to be rescued by men, Ad Standards dismissed complaints and said:
...the use of two women in a car for an automotive product or service is not of itself discriminatory. The Board considered that the womens’ physical appearance may be considered as sexy to some viewers or exaggerated to others but that this is not of itself vilifying or discriminatory.
Schnitz and Tits
Ad Standards dismissed complaints over this poster:
This product or service is legally allowed in Australia...the advertisement was mildly sexualised but did not contain any nudity.
But nudity was never the subject of the complaint- it was the sexual objectification of women, reducing women to a consumable product.
Ad Standards ruled:
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.
Ad Standards wrote:
...‘hot’ is an imprecise term… ‘hot girls’ does not clearly identify any group of women who could be considered to be unfairly treated.
Our campaign against this sexist KFC ad attracted support from numerous marketing experts as well as global media attention. We condemned the ad for reinforcing gender stereotypes and for its sexist grooming of boys. Ad Standards responded:
The Panel considered that the boys in the advertisement were depicted reacting naturally to the situation, and were not targeted or depicted as sexual objects of sexual appeal...
The boys in the car are clearly shocked but do not make any lewd advances or comments that are offensive or are considered to be objectifying the festival goer.
These BDSM-themed posters were displayed in shopfront windows in shopping centres around the country, to an audience including children. Ad Standards said that was fine:
...the overall impression of the advertisement was not overly sexualised.
The Panel considered that most members of the community would not find the level of nudity or sexuality in the advertisement confronting or inappropriate for a broad audience which would include children.
Ad Standards dismissed complaints against this billboard advertising Honey B's strip club, saying:
...the women’s breasts are fully covered, the pants they are wearing are not brief and overall the level of nudity was not inappropriate in the context of the advertised product and location.
The context, however, is a sex industry venue advertising women as sexual entertainment, and to an audience that includes children.
This photo was taken outside a Brisbane primary school. The advertising imagery on the school bus included the URL of a hardcore pornography website. But Ad Standards didn't care.
The Board noted the complainant’s concern that after accessing the advertised Sexpo website, 'within two clicks leads to hardcore live streaming pornography/prostitution acts'. The Board noted that its role is to consider the content of the advertisement under complaint and considered that it has no jurisdiction over further internet searches made after accessing an advertiser’s website.
In response to this image on KillKill's Instagram page, Ad Standards ruled:
...this type of lingerie is legally allowed to be advertised.
Ad Standards dismissed complaints against this mobile billboard for Sin City strip club. The Panel determined the ad was:
…not sexually explicit or suggestive, or inappropriate in the circumstances.
The "circumstances" are broadcasting advertising for a strip club in the public space to an all ages audience.
Ad Standards dismissed complaints against this ad for laser tattoo removal on the side of a Queensland bus. They concluded:
...not overtly sexualised...not inconsistent with the attire worn by many residents and visitors to the Gold Coast area.
Yet again, Ad Standards misses the point. In the context of going to the beach, it's appropriate for both men and women to wear swimwear. In the context of exploiting women's bodies to sell a product or service, it is sexual objectification.
Posters advertising the sex shop's sheer bodysuit were displayed in shopping centres around the country.
The Panel considered that most members of the community would not find the level of nudity in the advertisement confronting or inappropriate in the context of advertising a mesh bodysuit.
We would counter that many members of the community object to larger than life porn-inspired imagery being broadcast to an all ages audience in shopping centres.
Ad Standards concluded:
...not demeaning or degrading of women.
Ad Standards responded:
The Board noted the advertiser’s response that the woman and her behaviour is intended to represent the equivalent distress experienced by a dog left locked inside a hot car and that there is no suggestion that the woman is herself equivalent to a dog or that she is trapped in the car because of her gender.
This sexually objectifying billboard not only promotes the sex industry, it actively seeks to recruit women to provide sexual services. It was permitted by Ad Standards because:
...this product is legally allowed to be advertised.
Ad Standards ruled this billboard ad for a sex shop was appropriate viewing for children:
...not unacceptable to be seen by a broad audience that would include children.
Ad Standards ruled that using waitresses breasts to advertise a venue:
...does not amount to an overall tone that is degrading to women.
Ad Standards ruled Sexpo was allowed to advertise the sex industry's annual exhibition to children, one metre away from a NSW school notice board.
...not inappropriate for a broad audience which would include children.
Ads Standards dismissed complaints against these larger than life posters in General Pants shopfront windows.
...the women are not inappropriately exposed and they are not posed in a manner that is sexualised.
The Board noted the term “wet dream” is a colloquial reference to an erotic dream that results in an involuntary ejaculation of semen and that most members of the community would prefer that this wording wasn’t used in advertising…
...however…the reference to “wet dreams” is linked primarily to the competition to win an overseas trip to Dubai.
Ad Standards dismisses complaints over sexist ads because women "appear confident or in control"
Ad Standards frequently dismisses complaints against sexist and sexually objectifying representations of women under the guise that the models appear to be strong, confident or in control. In reality, sexual objectification harms women even if the women represented are portrayed as confident. Ad Standards' claims are at odds with research finding that “health implications of exposure to sexualised and objectified images of women exist regardless of whether the intention of the images is to empower”. Research indicates that ads that depict women as sexually powerful or sexually confident negatively affects women’s body image (Halliwell, Malson & Tischner 2011). Despite this, Ad Standards continues to ignore experts and endorse harmful sexually objectifying representations of women, such as the following.
Ad Standards rules that the humiliation of women to sell car parts and services is acceptable:
...the women are depicted as being in control and having fun, which is not degrading or demeaning to women.
The following image on Honey Birdette's Instagram page was captioned "the ultimate bondage babe". Again, Ad Standards dismissed complaints, with the following rationale:
The Panel noted that the woman’s entire body is depicted and that the Wonder Woman pose is a position of power...
The Panel considered that the woman is depicted in a powerful pose with her shoulders back and her head held high...
...the depiction of her in a Wonder Woman pose is depicting her as a sexually empowered being.
We repeat- sexist and pornified representations do not empower women- decades of research indicate this treatment harms women in a range of ways. Ad Standards is making claims that are at odds with decades of scientific research.
This ad, a still image from Honey Birdette's Turbulence campaign, which sexualised female cabin crew and portrayed them as welcomed sexual advances, was posted on the sex shop's Facebook and Instagram. Despite the accompanying caption, "Have a mile high affair in this sheer seductress", Ad Standards came to the following bizarre conclusion:
The Panel noted the complainant’s concern regarding the image condoning inappropriate behaviour towards airline staff but considered that this was an unlikely interpretation.
The Panel noted that the woman dressed in a uniform did not appear to be uncomfortable, and noted that her hand on the woman in lingerie’s leg indicated a degree of reciprocation.
In line with their typical sexist and objectifying treatment of women, UltraTune presents women as stupid and needing to be rescued by a man- in this case, convicted rapist Mike Tyson.
Once again failing to grasp the substance of the complaint, Ad Standards ruled:
...their outfits were not overly revealing...the women are shown to be confident and in control.
The complainant pointed out the sexist disparity between fully clothed men and topless women to advertise clothing, but Ad Standards ignored this, ruling:
...although one of the women has no top on, she is standing in a confident manner in the group and is not represented in a less favourable way.
...although one of the women has no top on, her breasts are covered.
Ad Standards said:
The Board noted that the woman is presented in a way that suggests she is enjoying the attention and does not appear concerned by his attention...
...it is evident that she is not wearing a top but noted that her breasts are not visible.
Sexual objectification does not cease to be harmful because the women being objectified appear to enjoy being objectified.
Ad Standards responded:
...although the women do not speak they do have the presence of mind to realise that they are in danger and use an App to summon a rescue party.
The Board noted the complainants’ concerns that the women are rescued by men but considered that this was not of itself discriminatory as it is not uncommon for emergency service personnel to be male...
...their breasts are not the focus of the advertisement. Whilst the women are portrayed as sexy they are also portrayed as confident.
This image was the first page in the Sunday Style magazine, an insert of the Sunday Telegraph newspaper. One complainant expressed her frustration that her granddaughter was exposed to the image which was inappropriate. Ad Standards disagreed:
...not overtly sexualised...the woman are posing in a manner which suggests they are happy and confident...
...not inappropriate for a broad audience which would include children.
Enough is enough
This is by no means an exhaustive list of sexist and sexually exploitative advertising permitted by Ad Standards. See more Ad Standards fails like this here. Nothing will change until we do away with this broken system. The advertising industry has consistently proven it cannot be trusted to regulate itself, and the time for change is now.
Why Australia Should Follow France's Lead on 'Degrading' Sexist Advertising- Melinda Tankard Reist on ABC Religion and Ethics