The Ultra Tune brand has become synonymous with misogyny and sexist portrayals of women in its advertising over many years. We have documented the company’s use of degrading gender stereotypes, its vilification of women resulting in multiple Ad Standards’ rulings against it and the engagement of known perpetrators of sexual assault and domestic violence in the production of its ads.
Ultra Tune's sexist ads were broadcast during the Australian Open, including the women's matches, serving to undermine the public's celebration of women in elite sport.
Last month, we wrote to Craig Tiley, CEO of Tennis Australia and Tournament Director for the Australian Open, who is also a Male Champion of Change to "end everyday sexism", and asked him to inform Channel 9 that he did not want Ultra Tune to be represented as a sponsor of his tennis-related events. We have not received a response.
Click here to read the full letter.
Sex shop brand's female face a front for male profiteers
Sex shop retailer Honey Birdette spouts a great deal about female 'empowerment'. Despite the talk, after 8 years, 42 breaches of the advertising Code of Ethics and numerous, exploitative PR stunts, the company is renowned for harming women - in its own ranks and in the communities it operates in.
Honey Birdette's recent 'rainbow orgy' ad campaign was slammed as a PR stunt
According to testimonies recorded at glassdoor.com - an online employer review website - Honey Birdette has been complicit in a range of harmful, unethical and even illegal activities including training staff to tolerate sexual harassment, forcing staff to purchase products for personal use and asking interviewees about their sex lives.
We know from Honey Birdette’s years-long defiance of community standards and advertising Code of Ethics that it cares nothing for women who want to visit shopping centres and conduct their business free from forced exposure to porn-style imagery.
In the present #MeToo era in which women around the globe are giving voice to the pain of sexual harassment, to the uprising against and victory over rich and powerful perpetrators, and at a time when communities are increasingly holding corporates accountable for the impact of their actions (and inactions), why does Honey Birdette continue to flout human rights principles, sexual harassment laws, community standards and Corporate Social Responsibility? It’s senseless behaviour. And it’s risky business. As the UN Global Compact puts it:
Not respecting human rights poses a number of risks and costs for business including putting the company’s social license to operate at risk, reputational damage, consumer boycotts, exposure to legal liability and adverse government action, adverse action by investors and business partners, reduced productivity and morale of employees.
Of course, Honey Birdette’s owner is not - as is commonly repeated - a woman. Billionaire businessman Brett Blundy - who through his corporation Brett Blundy Retail Capital (BBRC) has stakes in a suite of brands including Lovisa and Adairs - owns 62% of Honey Birdette shares (Australian Securities and Investment Records, June 2019). Blundy’s long-term business partner and Sanity music stores owner Ray Itaoui owns 21%. With over four-fifths of the company’s shares held by Blundy and Itaoui, the 'Honey Birdette's owner is a woman' trope is a falsehood.
Ray Itaoui (L) and Brett Blundy (R) own a combined four-fifths of Honey Birdette sex shop brand (ASI, June 2019)
Should we be surprised that the major vested interests in a company whose corporate conduct frequently manifests as publicly-displayed, floor-to-ceiling, pornified representations of women are men? It echoes the pattern played out in other companies: from Pornhub to Pepsi the corporate world is filled with male owners and executives who are happy to get rich off the bodies of women and girls. Do Honey Birdette’s owners have anything to do with its repeated breaches of advertising Code of Ethics or its ‘crusade to pornify the public space’?
Honey Birdette ads displayed in family-friendly shopping centres in 2019
Blundy’s brands have a history of profiting from women’s exploitation, sexualising girls and pornifying the public space. In 2011 we launched a petition against Blundy-owned Diva jewelry company for marketing and selling porn empire Playboy-branded jewelry to young girls. After a few weeks and thousands of signatures, Diva pulled all Playboy signage and - apparently - products from its stores. But months later, Playboy products could still be purchased via the Diva website and were seen on shelves in some stores. Even stores that weren’t displaying the products were selling them from behind the counter. We’ve also called out BBRC brands Adairs and Bras N Things (now owned by Hanes Australasia) for promoting and profiting from the Playboy label.
Playboy-branded Diva shop windows, 2011: Blundy-owned brands have a history of pornifying the public space
(With his company Sanity recently named among a group of Australian retailers selling anime titles containing child sex abuse material it appears Itaoui has also profited from exploitation on more than one front.)
March 2020: Sanity stores selling Goblin Slayer, recently named for its depictions of child sex abuse
We know from a massive-and-ever-growing body of global literature that sexually objectifying representations of women in marketing and media are harmful, and that women and girls are paying the high price of corporate misogyny that plays out in advertising. In response to our campaigns calling out harmful, sexist advertising and marketing, some offenders offered non-apologies. Others listened, acknowledged the harm they caused, demonstrated corporate social responsibility and committed to changing their behaviour. Yet despite 8 years of calling out Honey Birdette’s harmful advertising practises, Blundy’s sex shop brand has only dished up more pornified ads for viewing at our local ‘family friendly’ shopping centres.
It’s impossible to reconcile BBRC’s stated corporate values - “respect”, “continuous improvement”, “accountability”, “trust” and “integrity” - or its slogans (like “operate with integrity, succeed with humility”) with Honey Birdette’s belligerent and harmful conduct. As we’ve pointed out before corporate social responsibility is not about words. It’s the demonstrated commitment to the well-being of the people who are impacted by one’s business activities. For BBRC, those people are women and girls around the globe who - contrary to Honey Birdette’s claims of their ‘empowerment’ - are disempowered by the sexually objectifying ads Honey Birdette displays in their communities.
Honey Birdette presents itself as a ‘by-women, for-women’ company. But it is another example of men profiting from the exploitation and objectification of women. Granted, the brand has a female face and plenty of women-worn boots (or stilettos) on the ground. This is strategic, though, routinely used by Honey Birdette to spread its Hugh-Hefnerised objectification-equals-empowerment propaganda, shield itself from critique of its exploitative advertising and public relations tactics, and throw the public off the scent of the men who are profiting.
Despite its claimed commitments to respect and integrity, Blundy’s BBRC - Honey Birdette’s principal shareholder - has failed to properly govern the company and instead has allowed it to disrespect community members and standards. Rather than fostering conduct that matches its stated values, BBRC has - through its Honey Birdette brand - repeatedly violated advertising industry Code, shown disdain for members of the public who have objected to its pornified advertisements and insisted on forcing unwilling members of the public to view its graphic - even explicit - porn-themed ads. It has brought the names of other companies it is associated with into disrepute, for example, its Male Champion-led landlords who have hosted its porn-themed ads in their 'family-friendly' shopping centres.
That is not integrity. That is hypocrisy. It keeps the Honey Birdette brand on the corporate reputation scrap heap, and Blundy's name on the list of men profiting from the exploitation of women.
Are you concerned about lining the pockets of corporates that profit from sexploitation? See the full list of BBRC brands here: https://bbrcworld.com/investments/
So-called 'ethical' funds need to demonstrate their point of difference from other super funds.
Ask your super fund where it stands on shopping centre companies that host Honey Birdette's porn-themed ads. Points you may wish to make:
- Unwanted exposure to sexualised imagery is a form of sexual harassment and a violation of human rights
- Exposure to objectifying imagery is linked to tolerance of violence against women and a dimished view of women’s worth and humanity
- Women feel unsafe in places where pornified imagery is displayed
- Boys absorb harmful attitudes from this imagery
Let us know how your fund responds.
I have been a client of Australian Ethical for a number of years now. I made the conscious choice to switch super funds in an effort to invest more responsibly. Their website says "We invest in companies to have a positive impact on the planet, people and animals. We agitate for change and that means taking a stance." This sounded great and seemed aligned to my values.
Until I realised that Australian Ethical invested in property. And this included Lendlease Group and Stockland who facilitate Honey Birdette's harmful hyper-sexualised advertising. The very advertising I have been campaigning against for years. And just so we are clear this is the type of advertising that Honey Birdette are pushing in the public domain to our kids. This is what Lendlease Group and Stockland are facilitating. This is what Australian Ethical are investing in. This is what my superannuation is funding.
Australian Ethical replied:
"We agree the advertising from Honey Birdette is concerning. They have breached the Australian Association of National Advertisers Code of Ethics 30 times since 2012 & shown general disregard toward compliance with the Code."
"We are engaging with Lendlease & Stocklands asking them to require Honey Birdette to comply with the Code for all advertising within their shopping centres."
"We invest in Lendlease because they develop & manage a range of properties including schools & hospitals & are considered a sector leader in sustainability. They’re also one of the few companies in the industry to target large scale urban regeneration projects."
"Like all companies Lendlease has negative impacts which we take into account in our ethics assessment. But not every negative will mean a company is automatically ruled out for investment & in some cases we can have more of an impact engaging with them."
"We exclude over 60% of the ASX top 200 companies. The word ethical doesn't mean every company we invest in is perfect (in our experience perfect companies are rare). We look at the positives and negatives to assess if a company is, overall, aligned with our Ethical Charter."
Free from ‘toxic chemicals.’ Not free from toxic messages
Last week, 15 girls aged 14-16, and involved with Fusion Mornington Peninsula’s Real Girls program, took on Australian make-up and skincare brand Frank Body over its lip and cheek ‘Send Nudes’ product.Read more
Gone in 24 hours. But why does this keep happening?
Well that was quick.
On Tuesday afternoon I posted on my social media pages this hoodie for primary school aged boys.
It was found in the Canberra outlet store of surf style chain shop Quiksilver, which describes itself as ‘The World’s Leader in Snow and Surf Clothing’ by Rachel Grant. She’s a mum who was looking for clothes for her 6 and 9-year-old sons who were with her. She then told me about her unfortunate discovery on the rack of clothing in her son’s sizing.
Quiksilver was about to become a world leader in objectified and sexualised clothing for little boys.
At a time when we are (at last) having a global discussion about the mistreatment of women and girls, calling out the bad behaviour of so many predators, gropers, sexual abuse apologists and general thugs and with governments adding in new budget items for respectful relationships programs in schools, corporates like this go about their merry misogynistic ways, creating fashion items which enmesh objectification of women and male entitlement in the culture.
Supporters went into action immediately – women like mother, grandmother and teacher Lisa Ashdowne who wrote in part: “I’m writing to make a complaint about the messages your products and advertising send our children, girls and boys, about who they are in the world, how they should think and behave, where they belong in society, the value they hold for themselves and for others – living in Torquay, I am faced daily with the overriding message that boys and men are valued for their skills and effort in surfing and girls and YOUNG women are valued when they are skinny, semi-naked…being on display, not valued for anything other than another’s pleasure. I will be actively campaigning against your company until your values and guiding principles change and they are EXPLICITLY demonstrated in your products and your communications at all levels”.
Then, the next day, supporters began receiving this message.
I’ve thanked Quiksilver for their prompt response. And they deserves thanks.
But activist Melinda Liszewski, whose has been working with me in cultural jamming actions for more than a decade, asks this pointed question on twitter:
That’s the thing, isn’t it. There are people who decided that plastering semi naked women on a jumper for little boys, suggesting those women are a ‘paradise’ for them to enjoy, is acceptable. There were entire design/buying/marketing departments determining that turning little boys into walking billboards for spreading harmful ideas about women and girls was fine. Where is the quality control? The ethics? The corporate social responsibility?
It’s great to go into the New Year with a win straight up. And we are thankful when companies respond to community concern. But we must remain vigilant and keep fighting until there is genuine change at every level.
Shopping ethically is rewarding but it can be a challenge at times! When it comes to ethical practices there are various aspects to consider - slave labour, humane treatment of animals, impact on the environment. But what about ‘sexploitation’- when companies use sexism and objectify women to sell products and services? Many of us choose not to financially support exploitative companies- should this extend to companies who sexually exploit women in their advertising?
“Advertising is a very powerful educational force. Advertising’s influence is quick, cumulative, and for the most part, it’s subconscious. Ads sell more than products. They sell values, they sell images, they sell concepts of love and sexuality, of success, and perhaps most important, a sense of normalcy. To a great extent they tell us who we are and who we should be.” – Jean Kilbourne, Killing Us Softly 4
It’s 2016, and yet women’s bodies are still being used to sell everything from beer to burgers to organ donation.
Hyper-sexualised representations of women in advertising and mainstream media are everywhere, whether it is women posed as passive, decorative objects, being reduced to a collection of sexualized body parts, being defined by their sexual availability, or even depicted as victims of violence- but what does this mean for women and girls?
When women’s value is determined by how hot they are and what they can offer to men sexually, this isn’t a good thing for women. When women are reduced to sexual objects, when their value is based on their physical beauty and sexuality to the exclusion of other characteristics, skills and attributes, this harms women. This objectification is at the roots of many forms of gendered oppression, such as sexual harassment, abuse, discrimination and violence against women. It reinforces women’s status as second-class citizens rather than intelligent, valued people with something real to contribute to the world and as such, undermines gender equality.
“Sex sells” is the all too common refrain, but it’s not really sex that is being sold- we’re not seeing men objectified and subjugated in these same ways. What is really being sold is the sexual objectification and subordination of women, and this should be cause for concern. It is worth noting also that research by the American Psychological Association concluded that sex does not actually sell, that it does not help brand memory- it either has no effect in marketing or it hurts.
Yet given all this, advertisers continue to use sexploitation to flog products. Sure, it’s lazy, lacks creativity, potentially alienates at least half of their potential consumer base and indicates a lack of confidence in the merits of their product. As the saying goes ‘If your product was any good you wouldn’t need sexism to sell it’.
At Collective Shout, we call on advertisers, marketers, media and corporations to be better. We believe that companies have a responsibility to act ethically and to exercise corporate social responsibility to act in the best interests of women and girls. We even have our own Corporate Social Responsibility Pledge that we invite ethically minded companies to sign up to, pledging to not sexualize girls and objectify women to sell products and services.
In the lead up to Christmas we release our annual ‘Crossed Off’ list a blacklist of corporate offenders who sexualized girls and objectified women to promote themselves during the year. We encourage our supporters to vote with their wallets and refuse to financially support companies that sexually exploit women for profit- see also our Brands page for a more comprehensive list.
It’s time to hold these companies accountable for their treatment of women, and show them that sexploitation does not sell. Join us at www.collectiveshout.org to be part of our movement. If you are part of a company that values women and girls, sign up to our Corporate Social Responsibility Pledge today!