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/
Women working in food services are prone to sexual harassment. The 2018 National Survey on Workplace Sexual Harassment report found that people employed in accommodation and food services - 60 per cent of whom were women - were "overrepresented as victims of workplace sexual harassment”. A 2019 survey of Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association members - a group made up primarily of employees from the retail, fast-food and warehouse sectors - showed that nearly half of women had experienced workplace sexual harassment.
Last week KFC gushed about its partnership with icare for a staff-education program aimed at equipping staff with skills to de-escalate customer abuse and reducing its prevalence. Background data confirms that for workers in the fast-food sector, customer abuse is the norm, and is experienced more widely by female workers than male workers.
We know that abuse is borne out of disrespect, and so it’s reasonable to view customer abuse - abuse that tends to affect women more prevalently than men - as another symptom of societal-level disrespect for women. When other research confirms that gender stereotypes and sexually objectifying representations of women in media and advertising diminish our view of and value for women, we’re hard-pressed to understand why - at the same time it invests in employee empowerment - KFC would use casual sexism to flog chicken.
icare’s pilot program involving KFC reportedly resulted in a 48% reduction in cases of customer abuse. But in the wake of KFC’s cataclysmic advertising fail, do young, female employees in KFC outlets have reason to feel empowered at work? KFC has sent the message to men and boys everywhere that ogling a woman’s breasts - an act of sexual harassment - is just a natural, normal thing to do. The message to women and girls? To borrow a pun from another KFC ad campaign, ‘Bucket. Why not?’ - just go with it. This is the antithesis of the message of respect-based, anti-harassment training programs which instruct victims and onlookers to speak out against harassment.
It is always good to provide workers with skills to manage the spectrum of customer misconduct, but young women should not be expected to absorb the consequences of a nationwide ad campaign where sexual objectification and sexual harassment of young women is the punchline.
How can young women feel respected by their employer when KFC is contributing to the very problems they are trying to solve with a "respect and resilience" program? Will they be safe at work when men like this walk through the door?
If KFC has - as it claims - genuine interest in the well-being of young people and empowering its staff, it will retract the ad and commit to marketing its products without endorsing sexual harassment and perpetuating antiquated sexist narratives that contribute to a culture of disrespect for women.
New research shows ad industry is trailing behind community expectations
Recently we celebrated a big win with Bauer Media Group's decision to can its People and Picture porn magazines. In a media statement Movement Director Melinda Tankard Reist commended Bauer Media for the move, stating that society has moved on from harmful, sexist portrayals of women.
New research has captured identical sentiment about harmful, sexist advertising: as a society we've moved on. The research paper titled 'Community responses to gender portrayals in advertising' is the collaborative work of RMIT and Women's Health Victoria. It shows that as a society we are cognisant of the harms of sexually objectifying portrayals of women in advertising and that we want better.
Study participants felt that ads portray men and women in ways that are 'out of step with contemporary society': Women are shown as homemakers, mothers or sex objects; men are portrayed in 'more action-oriented roles and associated with leadership and power'.
The following key findings were reported:
Participants felt that the impacts of these portrayals were particularly disempowering for women and contributed to the devaluing of women in society. Many suggested that advertisements that sexualise women or focus on women’s appearance had a negative impact on intimate relationships, body image, self-esteem and mental health. Several expressed concern that these portrayals could contribute to violence against women.
Apart from perceptions about harmful stereotypes in advertising, the research also examined community perceptions of the self-regulated advertising system, finding that 'people want more responsible advertising'. The study authors have urged the advertising industry to learn from others and get with the times:
The industry has acknowledged a need to review its code of ethics. That’s a start. But something else to learn from Britain to address sexist advertising is the value of a co-regulatory system that doesn’t leave the industry to set its own rules...It’s time for the industry to show it’s not living in the past.
Britain recently introduced broader restrictions on harmful sexist stereotypes in advertising. The ban is underpinned by a co-regulated system that enables enforcement.
We've been pointing out the flaws of the self-regulated ad industry for years. Lack of meaningful penalties for advertisers that breach the code, no powers within the system to enforce removal of ads that breach the code and reliance on community members to report suspected non-compliance are just a few. In our own submission to the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) Code of Ethics review, we too urged the ad industry to take stock and end their complicity in the sexploitation of women and girls:
We believe the advertising industry in Australia must..take stock of its contribution to a culture that defines the value of women and girls by their sex appeal and that fosters tolerance for the abuse of women and girls. We believe that in the process of reviewing its Code of Ethics, the AANA must consider and implement measures that will uphold human rights as well as the community standard, procure a genuine sense of obligation from all advertisers in all advertising activity at all times and end advertisers’ complicity in the harm of women and girls.
Our comments and recommendations are aligned with research that shows society has changed. We see sexualised and sexually objectifying portrayals of women in advertising for what they are: factors contributing to the real-life harms of women and girls. It's time the ad industry did too.
Read the full research paper here.
UK's Advertising Standards Authority takes a stand against objectification of women. Time for Australia to do the same.
A clothing brand Missguided has been told by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to not use advertising that objectifies women in future campaigns.Read more
Advertisers, challenged with cutting through a cluttered marketing environment, sometimes aim to shock. Unfortunately while their aim may be to get their client noticed, our research shows they continue to glorify the violent exploitation of women.
This is despite increasing community support, matched by public policy efforts to counter violence against women.Read more
Originally published on The Conversation
Advertising and sex are two of the oldest professions in the world. Indeed, one of the earliest uses of advertising was to advertise sexual services; prostitutes in Ancient Greece carved ads into the soles of their sandals so that their footprints read: “Follow me”.
Sex and sexism, however, are different things. One is fun and most people do it at some time in their lives; the other is offensive and should never be done at all. But if recent events – from Eddie McGuire to Steve Price – are any indication, it seems sexism, like porn, is something you only know when you see it.
If you need to know how this plays out in advertising, the award-winning Game of Balls ad is sex-in-advertising. The Ultratune ads are sexism in advertising, as is the campaign using pre-teen models in sexualised poses to advertise dancewear.Read more
Marketing and advertising is often ruled by sex. We're told "Sex Sells." It's such a long accepted idea that it's almost expected. From Microsoft using it to sell their Xbox to perfume companies to sell fragrances. Sex is even used to sell pizza.
It's a short hand, a lazy marketing technique that says little while showing everything. It’s forced onto products that don’t need it, don’t work with it, and have nothing to do with it, as if the product is almost window dressing, and what they’re really selling is the woman posing on top of it.
But what if the old maxims are wrong? What if the photos of naked or half naked women, sexualized poses and titillation don't sell? What if the preconceptions of advertisers were wrong?Read more
Mad Pizza E Bar don’t have the best marketing. That’s the simplest way to put it. Largely because their approach to getting people through the door looks closer to porn than pizza. From the naked women on the walls of their establishment to the close ups of breasts on their menus to the soft-core posts plastered all over their Facebook page, they don’t seem to spend much time focusing on their product – it’s all about the women posing around it.
So what’s the problem? What’s wrong with using sexualised images in place of a marketing strategy? There’s a bunch of things.Read more
Update: Sign Petition to PETA
PETA is a not-for-profit organization that aims to establish and protect the rights of all animals. PETA's website states that it operates under these principles:
‘Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way.’
PETA’s self-proclaimed commitment to the ethical treatment of animals is in direct contrast with their sexually exploitative treatment of women in their advertising.