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.
Ad Standards have upheld complaints against a strip club, Goldfingers Mens Club over an “unavoidable” poster on the corner of King Street and Lonsdale Street featuring a highly sexualised image of a woman with a guitar between her legs.
A modified version of an image from the venue's Instagram appears to match the description of the ad:
One of the complaints to Ad Standards said that the ads were sexually explicit and suggestive:
"Even though there is no full-frontal nudity, they are still sexually explicit and make me very uncomfortable as I stand by that corner each morning waiting for the traffic lights.
"It's unavoidable, and I feel unnecessary for the business to advertise such an explicit poster to promote their theme night or weekend.”
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.
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.
Honey Birdette has been ordered to remove objectifying ads in a recent ASB ruling:
Overall, in the ASB's view, the advertisement did breach Section 2.4 of the Code which states that "Advertising or Marketing Communications shall treat sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience. Finding that Honey Birdette's advertisement did breach this section of the code, the ABS upheld the complaints that it received.
In another related win, The Adelaide Advertiser has reported that Rundle Mall Myer Centre manager Peter Lee has told Honey Birdette that their shopping centre will not allow these ads. Mr Lee has said:
“We have been liaising with the retailer’s national office in this regard and have requested the current posters be removed from display as soon as possible”
“They'd never be able to use those images in prime time to advertise, so why do I have to subject my young son to that imagery when all I wanted was to go get him some new shoes for preschool?”
For the month of July, the most highly reported offender was Honey Birdette, with eight separate complaints received. We had many parents reach out to us outlining how their children were confused and shocked by the new larger than life semi-nude posters that cover the store frontage. We have long reported on issues with Honey Birdette - including the sexploitation of their own staff. Their latest extremely racy and highly inappropriate advertisements at shopping centres throughout Australia have caused a huge stir and outrage among the general publicRead more
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
Advertising Executives Survey
One of the strategic goals of Collective Shout is to improve advertising standards with regards to sexual objectification of girls and women. We would be most appreciative if you could answer the following questions on advertising regulation. Your answers are strictly anonymous. Your anonymous responses will be used for research and educational purposes. Thank you for your support.