Refuses to submit complaints re porn styled image for review
Over many years, Collective Shout has drawn attention to the problems of our self-regulated advertising system. Recent experiences have caused us to focus on one particular stage of the complaints process: triage. At triage, the Ad Standards Community Panel Chair reviews a complaint and either dismisses it (effectively denying the complaint Panel review), or forwards it to the Panel for consideration and a ruling.
A week after lodging complaints about Honey Birdette’s recent Janet bodysuit ads and receiving auto-reply emails confirming receipt of my complaints, I received another email from Ad Standards advising that while the images were of concern to me, the Community Panel Chair - considered that they featured “women in lingerie” and were to be of the type of ads that have been “consistently dismissed” by the Community Panel. Accordingly, complaints against the Janet bodysuit ads would not be forwarded to the Community Panel for review.
But late last year, the Ad Standards Community Panel upheld complaints against an almost identical ad, noting that:
“the sheer material of the bottom half of the bodysuit is transparent and the woman’s pubic mound is clearly visible”.
Image: (Left) 'Luna', Upheld by Ad Standards Community Panel, November 2018; (Right) ‘Janet’, Dismissed without Panel Review, July 2019
I raised this with Ad Standards and asked how the Janet bodysuit images that were stylistically identical to the Luna ad could be denied Panel review.
Another reply from Ad Standards ensued. It stated that while Ad Standards takes prior rulings into account, in the case of Janet, Luna was “not as relevant as it is a still image which allows more focus on the details of the image. In this instance the fast moving montage video does not allow for the same focus.”
The Chair decided that flashing pubic mounds displayed in a montage of images (images that are indistinguishable from one that breached Australian Association of National Advertisers Code of Ethics in November 2018) were neither “overtly sexualised”, nor did they comprise “inappropriate nudity”. In essence, they single-handedly determined that ad for the Janet bodysuit was (to use Ad Standards’ language) “appropriate for the broad audience that includes children”.
This solo-made determination raises several questions.
- Where is the evidence that a montage doesn’t allow for the same focus as a still image?
- Does the Chair have current data on the time required to cognitively process a viewed pubic mound?
- Why were the facts that several different images were used in sequence in the Janet bodysuit ad, and that the video paused for several seconds on the final image used as grounds for denying the ad Panel review, when taken as a whole the Janet bodysuit ad gave viewers plenty of time to make out features contained within?
- Is it plausible that the bright, flashy medium and fast pace at which images were rotated heightened - not lessened - a person’s focus on the images?
- And what about Honey Birdette’s new mode of video montage advertising, where images are shown on rotation at varying speeds?
- Will Honey Birdette ads here onwards escape Panel scrutiny because the Chair thinks that montage videos don’t allow for the same focus as still images and are therefore appropriate for viewing by an all-age audience - even if pubic mounds are visible?
- Would Luna have met the same fate had it been shown as a flashy sequence of still images rather than a single, still-shot?
Still, the Chair rules. There’s no getting around them. So, while Ad Standards boasts a diverse Community Panel, the Panel’s value is lessened by the sheer fact that at times, members of the public are unable to access it. Do Panel members know about these cases that the Chair intercepts? Are triaged ads ever audited or given account for by other people?
And how does Ad Standards use the data on pre-Panel review dismissals? Do these numbers add to their aggregate data on compliance and help boost their defense of self-regulation?
Moreover, do I detect an air of gaslighting in Ad Standards’ correspondence? They explained that when assessing a complaint under the “Consistently Dismissed” procedure, the Chair considers what a “reasonable member of the community would take from the advertisement”. Are they insinuating that I - and other complainants who have their complaints dismissed prior to Panel Review - are not “reasonable” members of the community? This is concerning. Perhaps it’s a means of discouraging us from lodging complaints in the future? I was determined to get a proper explanation of why my complaint against Janet was denied Panel Review while complaints against Luna were upheld, so I pursued communication with Ad Standards. Our inkling is that many people simply accept the Chair’s kibosh on their complaints without rebuttal. It’s complicated enough to go through the basic complaints process. Who, especially following advice that she is out of step with “reasonable” people, wants to stick her neck out further and attempt to defend her original complaint? And if Ad Standards thought I was unreasonable last time I complained, won’t they think the same next time? Why bother lodging any more complaints? Gaslighting accomplished.
Of course, a triage process is needed. But a triage process that depends on the sensibilities of one person and that provides no avenue for challenge is neither robust nor fair. I accept Ad Standards’ assertion - the Community Panel “can’t possibly review every complaint”. Ad Standards must meter its resources. But when denial of Panel Review demonstrates arbitrariness and inconsistency, and when it is based on refutable claims, members of the public should be able to raise a challenge.
The lunacy of Luna vs Janet demonstrates the need for a new regulatory system for our ad industry - one that stops the harmful, sexploitative advertising activities of repeat offenders like Honey Birdette and protects the public from dead-end complaints processes.
"I am writing to complain about your choice to allow and profit from, Honey Birdette, being given a platform to brazenly advertise to your customers using highly sexualised porn inspired imagery within your ‘family friendly’ shopping centres.Read more
Scentre Group and Honey Birdette Advertisements in Westfield Retail Space: Eight examples of Inconsistency
1) Scentre Group promotes awareness and supports victims of domestic violence
They also allow display of sexualised imagery- the very type that perpetuates harmful stereotypes and is correlated with violence against women.
2) Avoidance of discrimination
Scentre Group Directors’ Code of Conduct requires that directors
“Avoid discrimination against any person on the basis of gender, religious beliefs, race, marital status or disability.”
Yet in their retail space, discrimination occurs daily against Westfield customers in the form unwanted exposure to sexualised imagery.
3) Concerns for public health and safety
Scentre Group employees are encouraged to report behaviours that bring “harm to public health or safety or the health or safety of any Scentre Group employee.”
Despite the claim above, Scentre Group continues to allow display of sexualised imagery - the very type verified by research to harm mental health, body image, sense of self-worth and attitudes towards women.
4) Encouragement to report unethical behaviours
Scentre Group employees are urged - via formal whistleblowing policy - to report concerns about “unethical, unlawful or improper conduct” and are ensured they may do so “without fear of reprisal.”
Yet when customers reported unethical behaviours (in the form of Honey Birdette advertisements - 13 recent examples of which have been ruled to breach Ad Standards) Scentre Group’s response was silence. Direct approaches to Scentre Group lessees, Honey Birdette, have been met with claims that are dismissive, condescending and scientifically indefensible.
5) Champions for gender equality
Brian Schwartz, chairman of Scentre Group, has been lauded as a champion for gender equality in the workplace. He was initially driven by the desire to see his own daughters grow up in a world with equal access to opportunities to succeed and excel.
Despite this, Scentre Group has remained content for customers’ daughters (and sons) to grow up in a world where exposure to sexualised imagery in the course of grocery shopping and visits to Santa is the norm.
6) Commitment to the development of women
Westfield is the major sponsor of our national women’s soccer team, the Matildas, and also of the Young Matildas (under-20s team). (See https://matildas.footballaustralia.com.au/)
Despite Westfield’s tremendous dedication to the development of women in sport, they have failed women in the general public by allowing the display of overtly sexualised imagery (via Honey Birdette advertising) to persist.
7) Commitment to community enrichment
In the endeavour to “connect and enrich communities,” Scentre Group gathered feedback from “some 29,000 community members.”
Despite their stated commitment to the betterment of local communities, Scentre Group has largely ignored the 63,000 community members who have signed this petition.
8) Proponents of change
Sir Frank Lowy, Owner and Manager (and former Chair) of Westfield was named a 2018 BOSS (publication) True Leader. True Leaders are “people who are changing Australia for the better.”
Despite this award and the existing change.org petition which has urged Westfield to indeed make a change for the better by ceasing to allow Honey Birdette porn-style advertising in their retail space, no change has occurred.
Sir Frank was quoted in March, regarding the growing popularity and success of pop-ups in Westfield shopping centres and their resemblance to kiosks of old:
“The more things change, the more they stay the same."
Sadly, little could be more truly said about the perpetual disregard and mistreatment of customers in Westfield-owned retail space – driven by Westfield’s continuing permissive relationship with Honey Birdette. Only when this dichotomous situation ceases and Westfield agrees to allow advertising only of the type that lines up with their other positive statements and activities within their retail space will any true change be possible.
Click here to sign the petition to Westfield
The Ad Standards panel have again determined that Honey Birdette's latest poster is in breach of the advertising code of ethics. The posters have been hanging in major shopping centres around the country in direct view of families and children.
Mumbrella reported that this is the 13th ad that has been banned for Honey Birdette out of 28 rulings meaning nearly half of the ads have breached the code of ethics.
“At a time where sexual assault is increasing in the news, this legitimisation of using woman’s naked bodies to sell underwear is inappropriate. Other manufacturers sell underwear/ lingerie and do not portray woman in this way nor do it in full view of young boys and girls. This is not about an objection to women.
“It is the objection to the sexual objectification of women – 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,” one the complaints continued.Read more
Westfield CEO responds: is not in a position to implement standards for advertising in Westfield shopping centres.Read more
Current and former employees of Honey Birdette continue to fight back against the company over poor work conditions and sexual harassment.
*Update* Calvin Klein remove sexualised advertisement
Thanks for your patience with this matter. We hope you can understand our need to balance both the rights of the retailer with the needs of the community.
We shared these concerns with Calvin Klein, and are pleased to report that they have replaced that particular artwork with alternate imagery overnight.
We do value community feedback and we're pleased to have been able to work with the retailer to address these concerns.
This picture outside a Calvin Klein store in a Westfield Shopping Centre was recently brought to our attention.Read more
Collective Shout call for financial penalties for repeat offenders
Honey Birdette are no stranger to the Advertising Standards Board. The sex shop which masquerades as a high end lingerie store in major shopping centres across Australia have repeatedly breached the advertising codes showing little regard for the self regulated system currently operating in Australia.
We've been writing about Honey Birdette's porn themed advertising since 2011.Read more