Ad Standards uphold complaints against sexist NGU Real Estate video, but fail to grasp harms of sexual objectification
Earlier this year, Ad Standards announced long awaited changes to the AANA Code of Ethics regarding the use of sexual appeal in advertising.
We welcomed the updated code as a step in the right direction, hoping that the change would result in more complaints against sexist and sexually exploitative advertising being upheld. We continue to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the updated code to determine whether there has been any meaningful change in the advertising content that is permitted. Here is the latest example we’ve come across.
NGU Real Estate Ad
Complaints against NGU Real Estate have been upheld by Ad Standards. The ad for the Brisbane company was dubbed sexist, objectifying and dehumanising by complainants.
The real estate company’s three minute YouTube video showed bikini clad women, often headless or faceless, in a multi-million-dollar mansion, partying on a boat and swimming in a pool. The video featured gratuitous slow-motion shots lingering on specific body parts as well as sexual innuendo between women, with one woman suggestively sucking on her finger.
A still image from the video.
Ad Standards considered possible breaches of the following industry codes.
AANA Code of Ethics, Section 2.1: Advertising or Marketing Communication shall not portray people or depict material in a way which discriminates against or vilifies a person or section of the community on account of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, sexual preference, religion, disability, mental illness or political belief.
The advertiser, NGU Real Estate, claimed the sexist ad did not discriminate against women because “there are no acts of inequity, bigotry or intolerance against women”, adding that the models are portrayed “in a position of power and confidence” as a justification for sexually exploiting women’s bodies and sexuality for profit. Ad Standards agreed with the advertiser’s assessment:
“The Panel noted that the women in the advertisement were depicted as comfortable and confident and did not appear to be in distress or at the property against their will.”
Ad Standards determined the advertisement did not breach Section 2.1 of the Code.
AANA Code of Ethics, Section 2.2: Advertising or Marketing Communication shall not employ sexual appeal: (a) where images of Minors, or people who appear to be Minors, are used; or (b) in a manner which is exploitative or degrading of any individual or group of people.
The Panel referred to a specific scene which shows “women as being similar to cattle” and considered that this particular scene in the advertisement did employ sexual appeal in a manner which is exploitative of women by portraying women as commodities or objects to possess.
The Panel found that the ad was in breach of Section 2.2 of the code.
AANA Code of Ethics, Section 2.4: Advertising or Marketing Communication shall treat sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience.
According to the case report:
“The Panel considered that there is sexual innuendo in the advertisement in the form of licking/sucking fingers and trailing fingers along shoulders but that this is only innuendo.
“The Panel noted that there is no actual nudity depicted in this advertisement. The Panel considered that the women in the advertisement are scantily clad, but that there were no nipples or genitals visible.”
The Panel found that the ad was not in breach of Section 2.4 of the code.
Ad standards is still failing women
While in this case, the complaints were upheld, it is clear that Ad Standards does not understand the nature of sexual objectification or why it is harmful. Treating women as sexualised props and defining women by their sexual appeal harms women as a whole, even if advertisers portray them as confident sexualised props. Sexual objectification may occur with or without nudity, with or without the presence of visible nipples or genitals. Ad Standards ongoing failure to grasp such concepts is alarming and indicates the current system is severely lacking.
What’s more, the many weaknesses in the code embolden advertisers to disregard Ad Standards rulings, as outlined in the final comments by NGU Real Estate:
Legal counsel advice confirms the following:
- NGU is not required by law to remove the ad or any part of the ad.
- NGU voluntarily elected to remove the instances of concern identified by the panel
and the complainant.
- The advertising standards and code are guidelines.
- Advertising is self-regulated.
- NGU did not act unlawfully.
While the revision to Section 2.2 of the AANA Code of Ethics is a step forward, we still have a long way to go.
We are very pleased to report that we have successfully defended our movement against legal threats from Sexpo, with the Federal Court in Brisbane dismissing an application brought against Collective Shout by Sexpo Limited. Sexpo Limited was also ordered to pay Collective Shout’s costs.
It was in May 2017 that we were alerted to public buses servicing school routes in Perth that featured advertisements for Sexpo. The ads included the web address for one of their sponsors, a broadcaster of live streamed sex shows.
Ad Standards dismissed complaints and rejected our request for a review. Case Manager Nikki Paterson claimed that advertising live sex shows on the side of a bus was not a breach of the code. Our petition to prevent similar ads on Brisbane buses, due out the following month, attracted over 5000 signatures.
Sexpo’s lawyers threatened to sue Collective Shout for damages for “misleading and deceptive behaviour” under consumer law, citing social media posts by two staff members.
Sexpo claimed that Collective Shout was misleading because the bus ads promoting MyFreeCams.com did not share a url, and only included the words ‘My Free Cams’ with no .com to follow. They also denied that the image existed on a bus or any other physical medium. Take a look at a range of photographic evidence that proves otherwise:
In the weeks following the release of our petition, the ‘.com’ from the following billboard was blacked out:
Last month, The Honourable Justice Reeves dismissed Sexpo’s application against Collective Shout, concluding:
I do not consider Sexpo has established that it held a reasonable belief that it had suffered any harm to its commercial reputation as a consequence of Collective Shout’s alleged representations such that it may have a right to obtain relief in a claim against it. Sexpo’s application under r 7.23 must therefore be dismissed. I will order accordingly.
Justice Reeves also noted that Sexpo provided more than 500 pages of affidavit material in connection with their application, yet only three paragraphs were directly devoted to the existence of Sexpo’s belief about its right to obtain relief from Collective Shout, an argument ultimately rejected by the judge. Real the full judgment here.
The ruling against Sexpo is a significant victory- not just for Collective Shout and our supporters, but for all those who support the rights of children to live free from pornography. The sex industry in Australia has been permitted to target children with advertising for pornography and prostitution in public spaces for too long, and we are more committed than ever to stand up for the rights of children.
Last year, father of three Kenneth Thor started a petition calling on Westfield to stop Honey Birdette’s consistent sexist and porn-inspired imagery in shopping centres across the country.
More than 61,000 people share Kenneth’s concerns about the retailer’s ongoing depictions of women as sexual playthings for men, yet to date, Westfield has failed to demonstrate corporate social responsibility or even respond to hundreds of complaints.
Honey Birdette is a serial sexploitation offender, attracting numerous complaints to Ad Standards for its sexually objectifying treatment of women. The sex shop even made the Ad Standards top ten list of most complained about ads in the country in both 2015and 2016. When complaints against Honey Birdette have been upheld, they refuse to comply, even stating, “Nobody tells Honey B’s when to take down her signage!”
In a response to Kenneth’s petition, CEO Eloise Monaghan once again dismissed legitimate concerns over Honey Birdette’s sexist treatment of women, claiming,
“You see more flesh on Bondi Beach at 10 a.m.”
Monaghan has missed the point.
What is sexual objectification?
The presence of female flesh alone does not constitute sexual objectification. The inclusion of attractive women does not constitute sexual objectification.
Sexual objectification occurs when a person, often a woman, is treated as a body, or series of body parts for other’s use and consumption, when her physical attributes and sexual capabilities are regarded as representative of her whole self or seen as determining her worth.
As Dr Linda Papadopolous stated in Sexualisation of Young People Review:
“Although sexual objectification is but one form of gender oppression, it is one that factors into- and perhaps enables- a host of other oppressions women face, ranging from employment discrimination and sexual violence to the trivialisation of women’s work and accomplishments.”
Honey Birdette routinely promotes the sexual objectification of women in their floor to ceiling porn-themed advertising, featuring hypersexualised depictions of women’s bodies or even just parts of their bodies. Women in Honey Birdette advertising exist for men’s pleasure, defined only by their sexual appeal and availability. The message is that women exist for men’s enjoyment and entertainment.
Objection to the sexual objectification of women is not an objection to women, nor is it an objection to women’s bodies. It is about opposition to sexism, to corporates who profit from the sexual exploitation of women and have the audacity to claim they are empowering women in the process.
What about ads showing men in underwear?
Monaghan went on to suggest Honey Birdette is the victim of a double standard because there is no outcry over ads showing men in underwear.
Again, the issue is not and has never been about underwear. The depiction of men or women in underwear is not inherently degrading or sexualised, nor does it require women to be objectified and exploited. Just look at the lingerie ad below by Badger and Winters who “made a commitment to never objectify women in our work”.
While we have spoken out against the objectification of men, the objectification of men is not nearly as prevalent as the everyday sexualisation and objectification of women in media and popular culture. Women are far more likely to be objectified and to be negatively impacted by objectification. Men featured in advertising are not typically demeaned, dismembered, treated like decorative objects, or posed as vulnerable and submissive in the way women frequently are. Read more here.
In the #MeToo era, with a growing community awareness about alarming rates of men’s violence against women and the relationship between the objectification of women and men’s violence against them, companies like Honey Birdette continue to put their profits before the respect, dignity and wellbeing of women. #TimesUp Honey Birdette.
Female Empowerment? Why Feminism Deserves Better than Honey Birdette- ABC Religion and Ethics
The following is a complaint to Ad Standards we received from a supporter. The complaint was made in response to a Bras N Things advertisement featuring a woman wearing nothing but lacy panties and in bold red font, the words “THE TAKE IT ALL OFF SALE.”
I register this complaint under sections 2.2 and 2.4 of the AANA Code of Ethics.
This advertisement degrades women as a group by telling females to “Take it all off” — a clear double entendre that isn’t even accurate in terms of the 50% sale it is advertising. The inaccuracy of the slogan reinforces the intention of the retailer to sexualise women. The advertisement appears in full view of children (the ‘relevant audience’) walking through the mall. The slogan is short enough and simple enough to be read by children and its meaning interpreted by girls who already receive a constant bombardment of advertising messages about how their worth as humans is measured by their sexuality.
This slogan is directed at a general representation of women that exploits women sexually for the sexual aggrandisement of men, and degrades women by reducing them to objects to be consumed. It should be noted that men are not similarly sexually objectified and commodified by such types of advertising slogans.
Presumably, BNT couldn’t run with the more accurate ‘Take it half off’ — it was a 50% sale — because it would be rather too close to the common ‘Take your top off’ mantra recited by packs of young males at events such as schoolies week. The message is clearly sexual in nature and exists within the context of a rape culture in which young women are accosted by males who shout at these women things such as, ‘take your top off’, ‘get your tits out’, and ‘get it off’. If you’re not sure what rape culture is, or don’t believe it exists, then I invite you to watch this clip.
I would then invite you to explore some of the extensive literature on how the sexualisation of women by advertisers and marketers contributes to the legitimation of male violence towards women and girls. A sample of this academic, evidence-based literature can be found here.
If the Community Panel considers that the sexual appeal is only ‘mild’ — even if you consider there to be any sexual appeal at all — then the above reading list will show that ‘mild’, individual instances of sexually objectifying advertising of women all add up to the dehumanisation of women as a social class.
Please note that I am not making a complaint about nudity, how relaxed or in control of her situation the model might appear, the fact that the retailer has a right to advertise what they sell, taste, offence, choice, individualism, the personal history or consciousness of the model, the empty concept of ‘empowerment’ as it is used in relation to women’s choices. Of course there is nothing inherently degrading about a woman in underwear — but a sexualised woman being told and/or telling others to take all that underwear off degrades and exploits all women.
Have you seen an ad that sexually objectifies women? Make a complaint to Ad Standards.
A Melbourne based shoe designer has attracted complaints over a sexually objectifying image on their Facebook page depicting a series of semi-naked, headless women wearing their shoes.
Facebook users weighed in on Preston Zly Design’s photo, with a series of witty and insightful comments:
“But why does the model have to take her pants off to sell shoes?”
“Hi, can you please clarify, will I be able to wear these shoes if I have a head attached to my body? Also I put clothes on prior to my shoes, will these shoes still work with my dressing style?”
“Can we expect similar ads for men’s footwear with headless men missing their clothing also, or is it just sexual exploitation of women that sells shoes?”
“I don’t need nudes to sell me shoes.”
“Women are not inanimate objects and selling to us by exploiting us isn’t edgy.”
“Oh look, headless bodies of young, thin, conventionally attractive white women being used to sell a product. How artistic! So revolutionary and challenging! It’s almost like this outdated and sexist practice hasn’t gone on for decades!”
Designer Johanna Preston responded,
“We are not clothing designers- it’s all about the shoes here” – as if featuring clothed female models is a skill limited to clothing designers.
“The images aren’t exploitative- but if you choose to think they are that’s your prerogative.
“I understand that the use of the female body offends you but we are proud of our work and stand behind our beautiful shoot.”
But the use of women’s bodies as props, the depiction of women without faces, the treatment of women as interchangeable and the use of women’s near naked bodies to sell a product is objectification- whether it is acknowledged or not, whether it offends or not.
There is a wealth of research on the harms of objectifying women- decades of it- finding that this sexist treatment leads both men and women to have a diminished view of women’s competence, morality and humanity. In short, treating women like things is bad for women.
It’s hard to understand how in 2018, in the wake of the #MeToo movement and with a growing awareness of the scourge of men’s violence against women, companies can continue to exploit women’s bodies to sell a product.
Car parts and services chain Ultra Tune have a long history of sexually exploitative advertising. From rubber-clad dominatrix women brandishing whips and feigning arousal at the sight of tyres, to countless ads perpetuating sexist stereotypes of women as ‘dumb blondes’ who can’t operate their vehicles and who accidentally drive off of cliffs, Ultra Tune has attracted a massive amount of complaints, from men and women.
Despite this, Ultra Tune’s marketing manager Rod Cedaro told the Mumbrella Automotive Summit that he didn’t see the problem with the ads and even went so far as to say they were “empowering” to women.
Ultra Tune’s ads are built on the premise that women are irrational and dumb. That they need men to step in and save them from getting hit by a train, driving off a cliff or blowing up their car because they’re just that stupid. But this humiliation of women is ‘empowering’, according to the company profiting from it.
From Mumbrella’s article:
Defending an ad where the Ultra Tune ‘Rubber Girls’ are stuck on the tracks in a car with a train quickly approaching, Cedaro told an audience at Mumbrella’s Automotive Summit, “The empowerment there was they [the women] actually were forward-thinking enough to actually exit the car”.
The women, who are continually portrayed as brainless yet sexy, are ‘empowered’ because when their car is stranded on the train tracks, they get out of the car. That’s it.
Cedaro went on to argue that the women were empowered yet again when van Damme rescued them from a flat tyre:
“The women were empowered by the fact that they are dressed up for a night out. If I was dressed like that I personally wouldn’t want to go and change a tyre myself. Who wants to get grease all over themselves dressed like that if you have been out for the night and you’ve got free road side assistance?” Cedaro said.
The women are empowered “because they are dressed up for a night out”. What does that even mean? That putting clothes on and leaving the house is an act of personal empowerment? If Ultra Tune’s sexist commercials can be said to empower women, the word has lost all meaning.
The reality is that sexual objectification harms women. There is nothing funny or empowering in demeaning women to sell car parts and services. The notion that women are less capable, less intelligent and less worthwhile than men contributes to a culture of gender inequality and undermines attempts to advance the status of women. Ultra Tune think the humiliation of women is amusing- let’s prove to them it’s not.
It was in 2013 that women’s surf brand Roxy was slammed for their sexist “all sex no surf” Pro Biarritz trailer. The video, a promotion for the upcoming women’s surf competition, featured a faceless and half-naked woman writhing around on a bed, stripping off and entering the shower and catching zero waves.
Three time women’s world longboard champion Cori Schumacher started a petition that attracted over 22,000 signatures, calling on the brand to stop sexualising women in their marketing and advertising:
Recently, Roxy released a trailer for the 2013 Roxy Biarritz Pro contest that showcases a style of marketing women’s surfing that is not conducive to a healthy, empowered vision of women. Instead of women surfers being presented as an alternative to the sexualisation and objectification of women in the culture-at-large, this campaign succumbs to the lazy marketing that is already so prevalent.
As the most visible and well-known women’s surf brand, Roxy has a unique opportunity to truly make a difference in how women and girls are represented in the world.
We ask that you stop the sexualisation of women in your marketing and advertising and instead, help to present women surfers in a light that women can be proud to be associated with and young girls can truly admire.
Five years later, Roxy have launched a new global campaign, entitled ‘Make Wave, Move Mountains’ to “promote a message of strength and support to young women of any age, sport, or dream.”
Roxy is not the only brand making major changes. In 2016 Unilever, the company that owns Lynx, a brand of men’s deodorant with a long history of sexist advertising, released the following statement from Chief Marketing Officer Keith Weed:
“The time is right for us as an industry to challenge and change how we portray gender in our advertising. Our industry spends billions of dollars annually shaping perceptions and we have a responsibility to use this power in a positive manner.”
Photo: A compilation of sexist Lynx ads over the years.
Just last year, burger joint Carl’s Jr, with a reputation for sexually exploiting women in their porn-inspired commercials, claimed they were changing their ways, ditching the sexualisation of women and instead focusing on ingredients and taste.
This change of direction in advertising from a range of brands is evidence of a greater cultural shift that is underway, one in which sexism and the exploitation of women to sell products and services is no longer tolerated. Corporates are starting to recognise that sexual exploitation does not necessarily sell.
These changes are in large part because of those of us who have consistently challenged the sexualisation and objectification of women and girls in media, advertising and popular culture. As always, thank you for your ongoing support and let’s continue keeping up the pressure!
Kids exposed to bondage-themed scenes in Fifty Shades Freed trailers on Channel 7 during Winter Olympics
Here’s how to make a complaint.
We’ve received feedback from various supporters regarding Channel 7 broadcasting the trailer for MA rated film Fifty Shades Freed, during the Winter Olympics and at times children are likely to be watching.
The trailer included highly sexualised content, featuring a bondage-themed scene in which a woman in lingerie was blindfolded and tied up.
We’ve heard from parents whose children as young as six were exposed to this content while watching the Winter Olympics during the day- one even at 10.30 am.
There are restrictions placed on what content can be shown on TV, and when. Free TV Australia’s Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice lists several codes that apply here:
2.2.3 MA15+ Classification zone. Subject to subclause 2.3.2(b), material that has been classified MA15+ may only be broadcast between 8.30 pm and 5.00 am on any day.
2.4.2 During Sports Programs and Films classified G or PG which commence before 8.30 pm and continue after 8.30 pm, all non-Program material must be no higher than a PG classification.
2.4.4 A Program Promotion for a Program classified M or MA15+ must not be broadcast during any Program classified G: a) which is principally directed to Children; and b) broadcast between 5.00 am and 8.30 pm.
It is worth noting also that commercials for sexual services are only permitted after 11pm and before 5 am, suggesting a recognition that highly sexualised or adult content should not be broadcast during hours when children might see them.
Make a complaint
You can make a complaint via an electronic form on Free TV Australia’s website. Complaints must contain the date, time, channel and location as well as a brief description of the material. Licensees (TV stations) are required to respond to complaints within 30 days.
Have you made a complaint? Let us know in the comments.
Kenneth Thor, the father behind the petition calling for an end to porn-style Honey Birdette advertisements in Westfield shopping centres, is continuing to keep up the pressure on Scentre Group.
In a letter to the Chief Operating Officer, Kenneth outlined some of the issues with Honey Birdette’s consistent porn-inspired advertising.
I just wanted to state the obvious, that bondage, dominance, submissive, sado-masochistic (BDSM) depiction of women in your shopping centres should never be “normal”.
I would have thought that in this day and age when violence against women and sexualisation of young children is such a huge concern in society, that a non-tone-deaf organisation like the Scentre Group would find this type of advertising quite tasteless if not offensive?
As previously communicated, I’m sure you’ve had discussions with Honey Birdette, but forgive me for wondering whether they have been effective.
The ASB have ruled that the two previous Honey Birdette ads (Office Party and Santa Kids) were “degrading and exploitive”, but they of course had weeks of exposure before being taken down. Their tally is now 12 case reports being upheld. When will someone figure out that this company has no intention of playing by the rules and is eroding our confidence in the ASB and Westfield?
What are you going to do about this current demeaning Honey Birdette ads and help prevent further offensive ads in the future? It is not difficult to see what is wrong with this situation.
Join over 61,000 people and sign Kenneth’s petition.
A Collective Shout supporter has been offered a $200 voucher from Ultra Tune after making a complaint to their Head Office.
In what appears to be a cut and paste form letter, Ultra Tune National Customer Service Manager Tania Plumpton utilises a range of justifications for the company’s routine sexism.
“We are sorry that you hate our advertisements sexist toward women” (sic)
Ms Plumpton assures the complainant that Ultra Tune’s Executive Chairman, Sean Buckley “stands by” the ads (what a relief). Sean Buckley has previously insisted that the ads are funny, despite overwhelming feedback from the public that they are sexist and juvenile.
“Only 300 complaints were made”
According to Ms Plumpton, only 300 people complained about their latest “Unexpected Situations” ad (only 300!) which amounts to “0.006% of the audience”- with the implication being those who objected to the ad were a tiny minority.
It doesn’t work like that. In fact, research on customer complaints suggests that 96% of unhappy customers don’t complain (although 91% of these will not return), or that for every 26 unhappy customers, only one will lodge a formal complaint. Ultra Tune received 300.
Those of us who have ever made a formal complaint about an advertisement to the ASB know how difficult this process can be. The fact that more complaints are not being made is not an indication of community acceptance, but rather, a difficult and ineffective complaints process.
As advertising is not pre-vetted, it is up to members of the community to find the time to make a formal complaint for offending ads to be investigated in the first place. Many people are not aware that they can even make a complaint, or who they might complain to. Complainants must be able to describe the ad, including the channel it was on and at what time. Many others may be dissuaded from making a complaint given the process has consistently failed to lead to any successful outcome, leaving complainants to believe that making complaints is a waste of time and deterring them from bothering in the future.
This is not evidence of a successful advertising regulation system, it’s just the opposite.
Convicted rapist Mike Tyson went through a “dark period”
Ultra Tune’s latest ad went a step further, featuring convicted rapist Mike Tyson. The former boxer who bragged about beating his wife and described his enthusiasm for enacting sexual torture on women has “deep regret and remorse” for the “dark period in his life”, presumably, the time when he raped a woman and bashed his wife. Ultra Tune defends their decision to feature a convicted rapist in their ad because Tyson has appeared in other movies.
Sean Buckley gives money to sports
The letter goes on to boast about Sean Buckley’s “generous support” of local combat sports that would “simply cease to exist”, with athletes who “would not be able to realise their dreams within this sporting arena”. It is unclear what any of this has to do with complaints about Ultra Tune’s consistently sexually exploitative advertising.
Sexism sells so Ultra Tune will continue to profit from sexploitation
Ms Plumpton then argues the sexist advertising is effective, resulting in a steady growth in sales. Evidently ethics and corporate social responsibility have little weight so long as Ultra Tune can profit from the exploitation of women.
The letter concludes as follows:
“We take all of our complaints very seriously and whilst we disagree with your thoughts on our advertisement, we would like to extend to you a $200 voucher that you (or your family) can use in the next 12 months at any of our Ultra Tune centres throughout Australia.”
Ultra Tune believes that they can convince consumers to overlook their sexist advertising with a mere $200.
Have you made a complaint to Ultra Tune? Contact their Head Office today and ask for your $200 voucher: email@example.com
Watch Mike Tyson’s awkward interview on Sunrise