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ASA Adjudication on Marks and Spencer plc

Marks and Spencer plc

Waterside House
35 North Wharf Road
London
W2 1NW

Date:

30 November 2011

Media:

Transport

Sector:

Retail

Number of complaints:

15

Complaint Ref:

A11-172754

Ad

Two posters, for lingerie, were seen on the side of buses in September 2011. Both featured two images of women wearing lingerie.

a. The first image was a close up of a woman lying on her side. The second image was of a women kneeling on a bed.

b. The first image was of a women lying on a bed with her legs slightly apart. The second image was of a woman sitting on a bed.

Issue

1. Nine complainants objected that ad (a) was offensive because they believed the images were overtly sexual and objectified women.

2. Eight complainants objected that ad (a) was unsuitable for display as a poster on buses because the images were sexually suggestive and were likely to be seen by children.

3. One complainant objected that ad (b) was unsuitable for display as a poster on buses, as the images were sexually suggestive and were likely to be seen by children.

CAP Code (Edition 12)

Response

Marks and Spencer plc (M&S) said they did not believe the ads were offensive, overtly sexual or objectifying. They said the ads simply featured the product, a lingerie range, and that they were well known as a lingerie retailer. They said the ads were part of a major campaign for one on their sub-brands which featured both outerwear and lingerie images shot in a “filmic” and atmospheric style. They said that if the images were not suitable for use on buses they believed this would have been picked up by their internal clearance process. They also said the images had been used in their in-store advertising and decor and, according to their Retail Customer Service team, they had not received any customer complaints or comments regarding these.

Assessment

1. Not upheld

The ASA noted that there was no explicit nudity in the images, and considered that it was reasonable to feature women wearing underwear in an ad for lingerie. We considered that the nature of the product meant that viewers of the ad were less likely to regard the ad as gratuitous and objectifying women. We considered that the pose of the woman lying on the bed was mildly sexual in nature, as not all of her face was visible and there was some emphasis on her breasts. We considered that the pose of the woman kneeling on the bed was overtly sexual, as her legs were wide apart, her back arched and one arm above her head with the other touching her thigh. However, although we recognised that some might find the ad distasteful, in the context of an ad for lingerie, we did not consider that the ad was likely to cause serious or widespread offence.

On this point we investigated ad (a) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 4.1 (Harm and offence) but did not find it in breach.

2. Upheld

We noted the complainants’ concerns that this ad, displayed on buses, was likely to be seen by children. We considered that most children viewing the ad would understand that the poster was advertising lingerie and, as such, the models would not be fully clothed. We considered that the pose of the woman lying on the bed was only mildly sexual in nature, and as a result was unlikely to be seen as unsuitable to be seen by children. However, we considered that the pose of the woman kneeling on the bed was overtly sexual, as her legs were wide apart, her back arched and one arm above her head with the other touching her thigh. We also noted that the woman in this image wore stockings. We considered that the image was of an overtly sexual nature and was therefore unsuitable for untargeted outdoor display, as it was likely to be seen by children. We concluded that the ad was socially irresponsible.

On this point ad (a) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.3 (Social responsibility).

3. Not upheld

We noted the complainants’ concerns that this ad, displayed on buses, was likely to be seen by children. We considered that most children viewing the ad would understand that the poster was advertising lingerie and, as such, the models would not be fully clothed. We considered that the image of the woman sitting on the bed was not likely to be seen as sexual, in the context of a lingerie ad. We considered that the pose of the woman lying on the bed was mildly sexual, as her legs were slightly apart and her hands behind her head, but that, in the context of a lingerie ad, this image was less overtly sexual than the image in ad (a), and was acceptable in untargeted outdoor media likely to be seen by children. We concluded that the ad was not socially irresponsible.

On this point we investigated ad (b) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.3 (Social responsibility) but did not find it in breach.

Action

Ad (a) must not appear again in untargeted outdoor media.

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