By Lauren Gurrieri, Helen Cherrier, Jan Brace-Govan
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.
Flick through any glossy high fashion magazine today, and you will be confronted with images of women who have been assaulted, brutalised or murdered.
In our study, we examined how advertisements that depict violence against women shape women’s subjectivities. We found that women were positioned in three ways – as “teases” who despite the violent contexts suggestively offer a promise of sexual intimacy (e.g. this Dolce et Gabanna advertisement), as “pieces of meat” dehumanised in order to be controlled, dominated and consumed (e.g. this Beymen Blender advertisement) and as “conquered” subjects who are submissive, vulnerable and psychologically adrift (e.g. this advertisement by Fluid salon).
Representing women as sexualised, zoomorphic and subjugated beings fosters a rape culture in which treating women in degrading ways through the use of violence is considered acceptable. By communicating that it is ok to dominate, sexually touch and assault women, violent advertising representations undervalue the right of a woman to say no. In turn, the taboo of violence against women is not only weakened but questioned.
When the inevitable public backlash arises against such advertisements, how does business respond? More often than not, they dine out on the free publicity generated until the tide begins to turn against them.
In our study, we analysed the public statements offered by advertising agencies and their clients when they were asked to justify violent advertising representations.
Essentially, businesses either attempt to subvert interpretations of the representations by positioning the violence as “art,” make authority claims to discredit those who speak out against the advertisement, or deny responsibility for the “unintended consequences”. They use public relations spin, such as insincere apologies or donations to women’s charities. In some cases they choose to remain completely silent on the issue. In other words, business either diverts the focus to those offended by the advertisement or seeks to minimise its role in the outcry.
Since the advertising industry is self-regulated, action is either too little or too late. Compounding this is the industry’s long and chequered history in fostering a culture of sexual objectification of girls and women.
Advertisers need to catch up with contemporary attitudes that there is no place for misogyny, sexism and violence against women in advertising, as the recent case of Wicked Campers demonstrates.
The repeated and widespread use of violent representations of women in advertising can dangerously perturb how we understand women and their right to be portrayed in manner that respects their safety. It counters the broader efforts of legislation, the media and social marketing campaigns to combat violence against women.
If advertisers are to profit and benefit from their role as cultural intermediaries, they must shoulder their responsibilities as well.
One agency has taken a stand on the issue of objectifying women in advertising. However, with little other change on the horizon, public policy efforts and continued consumer activism are needed to bring greater accountability for ethical representations in advertising practice to the fore.
Support our campaign up update ad code of ethics to include objectification and sexualisation
A code of ethics that ignores sexism is a roadblock to equality
In Australia we have a self regulatory advertising system. This system is in place to (supposedly) ensure that “advertisements and other forms of marketing communications are legal, decent, honest and truthful and that they have been prepared with a sense of obligation to the consumer and society and a sense of fairness and responsibility to competitors.”
As part of this system a ‘code of ethics’ was drawn up. Each time a complaint is made the Advertising Standards Board goes back to this code to see if the ad is in breach of one or more of the codes. But how effective can the code of ethics be when it completely ignores sexism?
The research is quite clear that sexually objectifying portrayals of women are harmful.
The Advertising Standards Board are giving the green light to harmful advertising because the code of ethics that was originally put together is missing sexism and objectification.
Sign the petition today to call on the Advertising Standards Bureau and the Australian Association of National Advertisers to revise the code and stop allowing harmful content.
UltraTune opted to screen their ads during the Australian Open while families were watching the tennis. You can read about them in our earlier blog post here.
We encouraged people to lodge a complaint with the Advertising Standards Board – some did so for the very first time. Yesterday we heard the news that the Advertising Standards Board had upheld the complaints against UltraTune’s ad.
The Advertising Standards Board’s response said:
The Board noted that the intent of the advertisement is to depict two women unexpectedly breaking down – with the advertiser suggesting that regular services from Ultratune will prevent such an ‘unexpected situation.’ The Board accepted that the intent of the advertisement is to show an unrealistic situation. However the Board considered that the women are depicted as unintelligent in the way in which they sit passively, with blank faces, in the car on the train tracks and also in the way they appear to not notice the oncoming train. This behaviour, in the Board’s view, makes the women appear unintelligent and presents them in a stereotypical helpless female situation.
In the Board’s view, the depiction of the women’s reaction to their situation is a negative depiction of women and does amount to vilification of women. The Board considered that the advertisement did portray or depict material in a way which discriminates against or vilifies a person or section of the community on account of gender and determined that the advertisement did breach Section 2.1 of the Code.
UltraTune responded saying they “intend to seek an independent review of the Board’s decision” and “vigorously dispute these findings”. UltraTune executive Chairman Sean Buckley still has the ad available on his YouTube channel at the time of writing.
UltraTune’s refusal to comply with the ASB ruling raises some serious questions about the effectiveness of ad industry self-regulation. The ASB has no power to compel advertisers to abide by its rulings, nor are there any penalties for advertisers who refuse to do so. Companies who have failed to act in line with ASB rulings in the past include Aussie Boat Loans, Wicked Campervansand more recently sex shop Honey Birdette, who posted on their Facebook page ”Nobody tells Honey Birdette to take down her signage!”
It is clear that industry self regulation is not working.
More comedy gold from the ASB: except we’re not laughing
It’s no secret that the advertising industry’s preferred model of regulation, self-regulation, has failed. Despite various government inquiries exploring the many flaws in the current system, as well as condemnation from child health professionals and the Australian Medical Association (AMA) the advertising industry has been given free reign to regulate themselves to the detriment of the community, in particular, children.
In 2012, AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton called for a new government inquiry into the sexualisation of children in advertising to protect the health and development of children. He said,
“These are highly sexualised ads that target children, and the advertising industry is getting away with it.
“There is strong evidence that premature sexualisation is likely to be detrimental to child health and development, particularly in the areas of body image and sexual health.
“The current self regulatory approach through the Advertising Standards Bureau is failing to protect children from sexualised advertising.”
We encourage supporters to utilise the complaints process when they come across hyper-sexualised advertising they suspect could be in breach of advertising codes. Many feel understandably frustrated as the ASB continues to dismiss valid complaints while simultaneously claiming that self-regulation is working well and this is evidenced by the fact they rarely uphold complaints! We’ve highlighted some of our previous complaints below to illustrate the great lengths the ASB goes to in order to excuse sexualising and adult sexual content in advertising.
Love and Rockets, Billboard
The photo of this billboard was taken from a Brisbane boy’s school. The ASB noted that it is not illegal for the sex industry to advertise outside schools and ruled that this billboard advertising a strip club to children treated sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience (school children) as it did “not show include explicit nudity”.
Schick for Men, Social Media video
In response to Schick’s commercial featuring a woman stripping off her clothes to sell men’s razors, the ASB said,”The Board noted that although the woman does remove her clothing…her breasts are covered by text on the screen. It was not sexualised.”
Supre Jeggings, TV commercial
The clothing store popular with teens and pre-teens released this ad to promote their new range of Jeggings. The ASB responded, “The woman was not posed in a sexualised manner.”
Lee Jeans, Billboard
It may come as no surprise that this image is part of a larger collection of photos by photographer and accused rapist Terry Richardson, with a reputation for porn-themed photo shoots and for sexually exploiting young models. The ASB said,
“There is no nudity [and] the woman’s pose was not inappropriately sexual.”
“Consumption of this style of lollipop is now common amongst people over 18.”
River ‘Get Excited’, Catalogue
An image of a woman who appeared to be nude aside from thigh high stockings, with her legs apart and her arms covering her private parts was “not overtly sexualised”, said the ASB.
The Firm Gentleman’s Club, Poster
We couldn’t locate a photo of the original poster, however it is the same (life-size) image as shown here on their website.
This life size poster was located on a busy Adelaide street. The ASB ruled this outdoor advertising was not in breach of industry codes and standards because “the image is relevant to the advertised product”. The product was women, for men’s sexual use.
Target Fifty Shades Lingerie, Billboard
The ASB said the billboard of a faceless woman reclining in lingerie complete with suspenders “[did] not present strongly sexualised imagery and is not inappropriate for viewing by a broad audience including children.”
Xotica Strip Club, Billboard
A supporter shared her frustration on encountering this large billboard while taking her children aged four through seven out for lunch. The ASB dismissed complaints about the billboard because the ad “[did] not show any private parts of the woman.” They went on to say:
“In the context of an advertisement for an adult venue the images of the women are not exploitative and degrading.”
“The building which is located in an area which contains a high proportion of adult venues…based on the location of the building, the audience likely to be frequenting the area are generally customers of the venues.”
UltraTune, TV Commercial
UltraTune used two dominatrix women brandishing whips and feigning arousal at the sight of tyres and car accessories for the enjoyment of a male staff member to promote their car service centres and accessories. The ASB dismissed complaints, ruling the dominatrix women were “relevant to the product” being advertised.
“Fresh One” coffee
Perth coffee brand “Fresh One” unleashed a series of porn inspired advertisements on its Facebook page earlier this year. The board upheld complaints against some of the ads, but dismissed complaints against others.
The Ad Standards Board dismissed complaints against this ad featuring a woman pouring milk over her chest.
“The Board noted that the woman is voluntarily pouring the milk over herself.”
“…the image is not exploitative or degrading, with references to ‘bathing in milk’ often associated with luxury (Cleopatra for example) rather than any demeaning activity.”
And this just in!
ASB dismisses complaints against General Pants Pornified “Wet Dreams” ad campaign. Read more here.
This is what industry self-regulation looks like.
The argument that adult, sex industry advertising can be justified in public spaces raises several questions. Do children and young people no longer have a right to be in a public space? Is it permissible for billboards to include sexually explicit content if they are promoting the purchase of women for sex? Do the rights of the sex industry to market itself to the masses take precedence over children’s rights to healthy development?
The Advertising Standards Bureau is a joke. As best-selling author and psychologist Steve Biddulph said, “The UK has an advertising watchdog that actually takes action. Australia has a watch tortoise that might have died.”
It takes a village to raise a child. We often hear from parents who feel overwhelmed and powerless to raise healthy children when the wider culture is undermining their attempts at every turn. Parents need the government and regulatory bodies to do their part in providing a safe environment for children.
Objectification of women should be recognised as discriminatory practice
The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee, Review of the National Classification Scheme: achieving the right balance (June 2011) recommended that “community concerns about the sexualisation of society, and the objectification of women” be taken into account as a key principle in every classification decision (Recommendation 2). This reflects the core message of Collective Shout that women must never be depicted as mere objects for the sexual satisfaction of men.
We were particularly supportive of recommendations 4 and 8, which related to issues of objectification of women as forms of discriminatory practice. It is remarkable that in the ASB’s view, as cited in the report, objectification of women was not seen as contrary to the prohibitions on discrimination and vilification.
Clearly the self-regulatory system has been found lacking!
Industry has been warned, has had its chance to voluntarily self-regulate, and has conspicuously failed to act at the level required. The evidence of the past years of minimal response by industry shows that the market culture around this issue will not shift without stronger government initiative.
Wicked Campers has once again violated Advertising Standards with its latest slogan “fat girls are harder to kidnap.” The vehicle hire company is a repeat offender, well known for printing vile and degrading slogans on its vans.
The Ad Standards Board has upheld many complaints against this company, but as reported by Mumbrella, Wicked Campers no longer bother to respond to such rulings.
Why would they? There’s money to be made – sexist, pornified messages are apparently a big hit – and there are no penalties for violating advertising standards. According to Wicked Campers, even violating the law is worth it. Here’s Wicked Campers on Facebook, mocking Queensland Police and gloating about the cheap fines!
Here’s a sample of some of the other misogynist messages Wicked Campers broadcast in the public space.
The Qld Government recently held an inquiry to determine whether the current system of advertising industry self-regulation is sufficient to prevent sexualised, objectifying or otherwise inappropriate content being broadcast in the public space.
Collective Shout participated in the inquiry and argued that self-regulation does not work. Wicked Campers is just one example of a repeat offender continually defying the advertising industry code of ethics.
The Parliamentary Committee Report was released in January 2014 with a list of recommendations which if acted on, would stop companies like Wicked Campers in their tracks.
Recommendations include significant and ever increasing fines for repeat offenders and a requirement for recalcitrant advertisers to submit to pre-vetting of future ad campaigns. We are calling on the Attorney General, the Minister for communities and child safety and the Qld Premier to act on these recommendations and make them law.
Violence against women is no joke and Wicked Campers have gotten away with this behaviour for too long. Your voice will make a difference!
Attorney General and Minister for Justice Jarrod Bleijie: email@example.com
Minister for Communities, Child Safety, Tracy Davis: firstname.lastname@example.org
Premier Campbell Newman: email@example.com
You might like to make the following points in your email:
I/We support the recommendations in the Parliamentary Committee Report for the Inquiry into sexually explicit outdoor advertising especially those that discuss financial penalties for advertisers that repeatedly violate the code of ethics
Companies like Wicked Campers should not be allowed to use slogans that degrade women and make light of violence against them for profit
Please take action on these recommendations and make them law.
Your voice DOES make a difference! If you have any questions, let us know in comments below. If you leave a valid email address (we will not publish your email address online) we can respond to your enquiry via email.
More misogyny from Zoo as Ad Standards Board ruling ignored
We’ve helped bring down Zoo weekly’s ‘hottest asylum seeker’ competition, made complaints to the Ad Standards Board about its sexist ads on Facebook and called on Coles and Woolworths supermarkets to stop selling the sexist mag. But Zoo refuses to change, ignoring a recent ruling from the Ad Standards Board that posts on their Facebook page were demeaning and discriminated against women.
One of the ads we complained about was an image of two halves of a woman with the question “left or right but you have to tell us how you came to that decision.” What followed was a series of misogynistic comments from Zoo readers. We also lodged complaints about an image comparing a woman’s body to a game console. An image of a woman’s bottom wearing underpants that say ‘Nintendo’ was accompanied by the question “What would you call this console?”
A quick scan through Zoo’s Facebook page demonstrates that nothing has changed, in fact Zoo is only getting worse. An article on Mumbrella describes in detail the behaviour of Zoo Weekly and its fans on Facebook:
It’s important to point out that Zoo magazine is an ‘unrestricted’ publication. This means that despite the sexist, pornified content and the advertising directing readers to hardcore content (see link here caution when opening) the magazine does not have an age restriction. Zoo’s own stats indicate that 28,000 young people aged 14-17 read the magazine each month. The magazine is widely available in supermarkets and service stations. Ads within the magazine urge readers to ‘like’ their Facebook page where they are served up more sexist and demeaning content.
We again call on Woolworths and Coles to stop selling a magazine that persists in demeaning women, women who make up both their staff and at least half of their customer base.
More sexploitation from a repeat corporate offender
Men’s deodorant brand Lynx – owned by Unilever – has added to it’s ongoing list of degrading ads with the company’s latest promotion, “Lynx, cleans your balls.”
We began hearing from CS supporters about the ad via our Facebook page when it aired on television. We checked out the video on YouTube where it was promoted on the home page. The company’s teenage target market are frequent visitors to the site.
We were asked to comment on the ad for the Herald Sun:
The controversial three-minute Lynx ad titled Cleans Your Balls stars actor and singer [Sophie] Monk in a mock tele-ad showing men how to wash sports balls.
The ad, which is full of double-entendres, has been criticised as crass and oversexualised by lobby group Collective Shout.
Co-founder Melinda Liszewski said up to 10 members had lodged complaints with the Advertising Standards Bureau because it was degrading to women and condescending to men.Read entire article.
Melinda Tankard Reist was also asked about the ad on Melbourne radio 3AW:
Co-founder of Collective Shout Melinda Tankard Reist said she was unsurprised by the tact that “repeat corporate offenders” Lynx had taken with their latest campaign.
Number of complaints is reported again in the media, view this as free advertising
When the ASB upholds complaints (if they uphold complaints) act indignant but agree to comply with the ruling even though you can’t do anything about the majority of other sites still hosting your ‘controversial’ ad. This will be perfectly timed with the natural end of the ad campaign anyway.
Slap each other on the back for a job well done and roll around in money, like Scrooge McDuck
Here’s something Lynx may have missed.
Lynx may be advertising deodorant and body wash, but they are also advertising the failure of the ASB to reign in recalcitrant advertisers. Lynx have done this before and they will do it again. They will face no financial penalties for continuing to run ads that are sexist, demeaning and that breach the Advertising Industry code of conduct.
We will keep speaking out because we believe silence has never changed anything and never will. Lynx’s latest ad campaign – like their previous ad campaign – highlights the inadequacies of the ASB and demonstrate why an independent body or authority is needed to replace it. Penalties should be put in place to ensure that advertisers cannot use self regulation to do whatever they want.
So thanks Lynx for helping us to make our case for independent advertising regulation in Australia. We will be sure to ‘advertise’ you at the next government enquiry.
As for Lynx’s claim that their ad is ‘sharp and edgy’ we’ll leave the last word to Allison who wrote:
I sat through that ad on the big screen. You could sense every person in the cinema cringing. No one thought it funny at all. My male companion felt embarrassed to be the target of such purile crap & he grew up watching Benny Hill.
Ever feel like you’re living in a giant porn theme park? Billboards dominate public space with hyper-sexualised messages. Buses are painted with semi-naked women. There are pole-dancing themes in shopfronts, porn mags next to the lollies at the petrol station counter, T-shirts in youth surf shops depicting S&M and Playboy bunnies on everything from girls’ jewellery to doona covers.
Children are absorbing distorted messages about their bodies, sexuality and gender roles because the Advertising Standards Board does not consider objectification of women contrary to prohibitions on discrimination and vilification.
It’s been called the ”adultification” of children, where sexualising messages combine with the commercialisation of childhood to constrict the childhood years.
Now doctors are calling it a public health issue. Their umbrella organisation, the Australian Medical Association, called last week for an inquiry into the premature sexualisation of children in marketing and advertising. Self-regulation by the industry was clearly not working, its president, Steve Hambleton, said, pointing to images and messages that were ”disturbing and sexually exploitative”.
”These are highly sexualised ads that target children, and the advertising industry is getting away with it,” Dr Hambleton said.
”There is strong evidence that premature sexualisation is likely to be detrimental to child health and development, particularly in the areas of body image and sexual health.”
Perhaps his intervention will get the attention of our otherwise negligent leaders. Psychological bodies and adolescent health experts have documented these negative physical and mental health outcomes for years, including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, eating disorders, body image dissatisfaction and poor academic performance. Girls especially are affected.
As psychologist Steve Biddulph, who is writing a book on girls, says: ”There is an erosion of self-image by the corporate media sector … the creation of anxiety about physical appearance and sexuality in pre-teen and mid-teen girls.”
The Senate standing committee on environment, communications and the arts examined the issue in 2008, reporting that ”the onus is on broadcasters, publishers, advertisers, retailers and manufacturers to take account of these community concerns”.
It recommended a review 18 months later, to see how industry had responded. So what has happened since? Very little. The recommendations were essentially ignored and the review still hasn’t happened. Meanwhile, the situation has got worse.
Groups continue to campaign against corporations that exploit the bodies of women and girls for profit. But without government and regulatory bodies demanding real change, it’s an advertisers’ free-for-all. Self-regulation continues to mean the industry gets away with whatever it wants.
Inadequacies in the present system include a weak code of ethics, the voluntary nature of the code, a lack of pre-vetting, the Advertising Standards Board’s lack of power to order removal of advertisements and meaningful penalties, and no consultation with child development experts. Even when campaigners get a win, it is meaningless. By the time the ruling is announced, the particular ad campaign is already over.
Last year the House standing committee on social policy and legal affairs put advertisers and marketers on notice, asking them to report back on what they were doing by December this year. In Britain and France, these industries are also under considerable pressure to change their ways following parliamentary inquiries into the sexualisation of children.
We need a regulatory system independent of the vested interests of marketers, and which draws upon the expertise of child health professionals.
It is time for corporate social responsibility in this area. If industry continues to show almost no willingness to be proactive, then someone should step in and make it do the right thing. Corporate profits shouldn’t come before the welfare of children and young people.
As published in the Sydney Morning Herald, April 9,2012
This morning I appeared on Channel 7 Sunrise to discuss the AMA’s call for a new inquiry into the sexualisation of children. Appearing with me was advertising creative director Dee Madigan. It’s probably unnecessary to say, we didn’t see eye to eye on everything. Here’s the video:
Did the Parliamentary report on outdoor advertising say everything was fine with self-regulation?
In the Sunrise segment, Dee Madigan claimed the House Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs inquiry into the regulation of billboard and outdoor advertising found the system was working well.
A parliamentary report tabled today [July 4, 2011] has recommended a tightening up of the outdoor advertising industry through a more rigorous system of self-regulation. Outdoor advertising is one of the least regulated forms of advertising yet the hardest to avoid – billboards have a captive audience and cannot be turned off….
The Committee’s 19 recommendations go some way to addressing our concerns. We are particularly supportive of recommendations 4 and 8, which relate to issues of objectification of women as forms of discriminatory practice. It is extraordinary that in the Advertising Standard Board’s view, as cited in the report, objectification of women is not seen as contrary to the prohibitions on discrimination and vilification.
We also welcome Recommendation 1: that industry bodies report to the Attorney-General’s Department by 30 December 2011 detailing their responses and how the relevant recommendations will be implemented [I wonder if the AG heard from them?] and that they provide a comprehensive report to the AG’s Department by 30 December 2012 detailing how the recommendations have been implemented and 2: If the self-regulatory system is found lacking, the Committee recommends that the Attorney-General’s Department impose a self-funded co-regulatory system on advertising with government input into advertising codes of practice.
We also welcome the exposure of recalcitrant advertisers outlined in Recommendation 18: that the Advertising Standards Bureau address instances of advertiser non-compliance by establishing a dedicated webpage that names advertisers, and their products, who have breached advertising standards or refused to comply with Board determinations.Read the full piece here
The Advertising Standards Board have upheld complaints against Lynx’s sexist ‘Rules of Rugby’ advertisement.
The advertisement was supposedly created to educate men about the rules of Rugby Union. It is of course just another excuse for Lynx to objectify women. It would appear that objectification is Lynx’s one and only marketing strategy. We’ve written about this before.
The advertisement, which appeared on YouTube and was reported to be launched as a television advertisement to coincide with Rugby World Cup, featured scantily clad women wearing modified Rugby Union uniforms (ie. underpants and midriff tops) running in slow motion. The camera zooms in on women’s body parts at different intervals while the voice over makes reference to ‘shape’ and ‘size.’
The Advertiser – Lynx’s parent company Unilever – defended their advertisement in the way they usually do. It’s funny! It’s tongue in cheek! Our consumers love it! In their response to the ASB, they also complained about Collective Shout:
We have noticed that a Facebook group called “Collective Shout” asked other Facebook users to send complaints about the Video to the Advertising Standards Bureau (see attached screenshot). The Collective Shout Facebook site contains the following statement:
“Have you seen this Lynx television ad? Please make a complaint to the ad standards board via the on line form at www.adstandards.com.au. … ”
Directly underneath this statement a link to the website of the Daily Telegraph was posted together with the following statement:
“Scantily clad models play out the rules of rugby in this controversial new TV ad that’s been launched to coincide with the World Cup.”
Both statements incorrectly refer to the Video as a television ad although in fact it is not shown on TV. We have reviewed the Collective Shout Facebook site and have not noticed that the Video was made available on this website. It is not unlikely that the nine complainants who claim to have seen the Video on TV have been encouraged by this Facebook site to lodge a complaint without having seen the Video on TV.
In its determination the Advertising Standards Board found that the advertisement breached Section 2.1 of the code (advertisements shall not portray or depict material in a way which discriminates against or vilifies a person or section of the community on account of race, ethnicity, nationality, sex, age, sexual preference, religion, disability or political belief. )
The Board considered that the advertisement is clearly shot to emphasise various physical attributes of the women – with lingering shots on the women‟s breasts, groins and bottoms. The Board considered that the advertisement depicts the women as sexual objects. The Board considered that the „fantasy‟ element of the advertisement takes away any suggestion of the women actually being presented as sportswomen and increases the impact of them being presented as sexual objects.
The Board considered that the advertisement depicts women in a manner which amounts to discrimination against women.
Based on the above the Board determined that, in this instance, the advertisement did depict material that discriminated against or vilified any person or section of society.
You can read the full determination including Unilever’s full response here
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