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.
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.
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.
After years of Collective Shout campaigning, the Advertising Standards Board has announced long awaited changes to the AANA Code of Ethics regarding the use of sexual appeal in advertising.
Figure 1: An example of sexually exploitative advertising permitted in public spaces under the current system.
Previously, under section 2.2 of the code, advertisements were in breach if they were found to be both exploitative and degrading. An advertisement deemed simply exploitative was not in breach. From March, updates to the code mean the use of sexual appeal in advertising cannot be exploitative or degrading.
Collective Shout welcomes this revision of the code. While this is a positive step, there is much more still to be done in order to effectively regulate sexist and sexually objectifying advertising.
While the ASB claims most companies comply with advertising codes and rulings, we’ve spent years documenting and exposing serial offenders such as Honey Birdette, UltraTune and Wicked Campers - companies who continually exploit the weaknesses in the current system of self-regulation to promote their products and services. There is still a long way to go, and we’re not backing down any time soon.
Honey Birdette sexploitation highlights Ad Standards Board incompetence.
The Advertising Standards Board has upheld complaints against Honey Birdette’s sexist ‘Office Party’ advertisements, featuring fully clothed men in suits alongside lingerie clad women. However, this ruling accomplishes very little, given Honey Birdette replaced this ad over a month ago with their “Sorry Kids, we gave Santa the night off” ads depicting Santa spanking a model.
This latest development only serves to highlight the Advertising Standards Board’s ongoing failure to adequately regulate sexist advertising, and the willingness of stores like Honey Birdette to exploit an ineffective system of advertising regulation.
In response to this issue, Collective Shout supporter and petition starter Kenneth Thor has taken the fight against Honey Birdette sexploitation and the ASB’s inability to address it to members of parliament. In a letter to Victoria MP Rachel Carling Jenkins, Kenneth has highlighted the many failings of the Advertising Standards Board:
Pic credit MTR/Caters Media
I write to ask for your support in putting an end to porn-style advertising being allowed in family friendly shopping centres and amending the current legislation (or lack of) around Advertising Standards.
Serial offenders like Honey Birdette exploit broken advertising system
The Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) has upheld no less than 9 out of 21 complaint case reports against Honey Birdette over the years. Honey Birdette have been ordered to take down highly sexualised and offensive posters from their shop windows, but they replace them with something just as bad or worse.
In this current system, as long as the advertiser takes down the ad eventually (in their own good time), it is registered by the ASB as a compliance. It does not matter if the replacement advertising is as bad or worse, it is considered a separate ad and requires a new set of complaints to be lodged. For example, in the last 5 months, they have been ordered to replace 4 ads!
Each case report consists of multiple complaints and requires the arduous effort of lodging complaints, waiting, sending in photo evidence, waiting up to 3 months, while the damage is already done. The worst thing is, there is nothing stopping the advertiser from breaching the code again. They can go through this process every day for the next ten years and the ASB will still register them as compliant, and the ASB can still boast about how effective self-regulation is with a 100% compliance rate. It is the biggest joke.
There are some things in life that are certain – Boxing Day sales, stocktake sales, and now, shockingly sexist Ultra Tune ads.
True to form, three free-to-air Ultra Tune advertisements have made the ASB’s 2017 most-complained-about ad list so far. Ultra Tune ads top the list with 357 complaints.Read more
Content Warning: Some content including in this post may be distressing, but it is content the ASB is promoting to your children.
If an adult gave your child a Hustler magazine, what would you do? Perhaps contacting the police might be an appropriate response.
But what if the adult was the Advertising Standards Board, and the pornographic magazine was the address for a hardcore porn website, complete with prostitution services featuring young women engaging in live sex shows, including being penetrated with objects?Read more
If you are looking for legal services in the Brisbane area you may want to give Logan Law a miss. Their sexist advertising has lead to complaints to the Advertising Standards Board, who have subsequently dismissed the complaints. (Probably because there is nothing in the code of ethics to address sexism)
One of their advertisements is a Faceboook post for legal services offered by Logan Law using innuendos relating to having a vehicle hit another vehicle from behind with hashtags such as "#steveo #hollyweed #loganlaw #smashedhardfrombehind #coppedoneinthebumper #beenrearendedlately #penetratingbrisbane #takenoneinthetailpipe".
The complainant said:
The majority of Logan Law's advertising has extreme sexual connotations and this is not limited to their Facebook posts, this also includes billboards seen around Brisbane which are promoted in an incredibly unprofessional manner. I find their advertising highly inappropriate.
The Board noted the advertised product is clothing and considered that it was not exploitative to use a woman wearing the advertised product. The Board noted that the woman is shown to lift her top up and expose her stomach. The Board noted the complainant’s concern that by showing a woman in the act of undressing the advertisement presents the woman as a sexual object.
The Board noted that the tagline, which features across each image and covers the woman’s torso, says “Everything 50-70% off” and considered that the woman’s partial removal of her clothing is a physical demonstration of this rather than a suggestion that the woman is a stripper.
The Board acknowledged that some members of the community would prefer that female models were not used to advertise clothing in this manner but considered that 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.
Advertising code of ethics must change!
Sign the petition to change advertising standards here.
The Board noted that in order to be in breach of this section of the Code the image would need to use sexual appeal in a manner that is both exploitative and degrading.
The Board noted the advertised product is lingerie and considered that the pose of the woman is not necessary to promote the product and in the Board’s view this depiction of a woman bending slightly to look in a mirror so that her bottom is towards the viewer is exploitative.
The Board noted that the woman in the advertisement is viewed from behind as she leans in towards a mirror on a dressing table and considered that while only the bottom half of her head is visible in the Board’s view the focus is on the lingerie and the overall image is not degrading to this, or any other, woman.Read more