ASA Adjudication on Unilever UK Ltd
Unilever UK Ltd
23 November 2011
Health and beauty
Number of complaints:
A poster for Lynx shower gel, in July 2011, featured a picture of a young woman standing beneath an outdoor shower on a beach. She wore bikini bottoms and clasped an undone bikini top against her breasts. Text on the right of the ad above a large picture of a bottle of the product stated "THE CLEANER YOU ARE THE DIRTIER YOU GET". Text at the bottom of the ad stated "VISIT FACEBOOK.COM/LYNXEFFECT AND GET DIRTY THIS SUMMER".
The ASA received 113 complaints:
1. 97 complainants challenged whether the ad was offensive because it was sexually suggestive, provocative, indecent, glamorised casual sex, and because it objectified and was demeaning to women;
2. 71 complainants challenged whether the ad was irresponsible because it was inappropriate for public display, where it could be seen by children; and
3. 12 complainants challenged whether the ad was irresponsible because it promoted promiscuity.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
Unilever UK Ltd (Unilever) said Lynx was a range of male grooming products targeted at 17- to 24-year-old males and the key theme of the majority of Lynx advertising was the attractiveness of the product to girls. In light of this they believed that audiences had come to expect, and were comfortable with, the typical narrative, tone and content seen in advertising for the Lynx brand. They said Lynx ads often provoked diverse reactions and opinions but that it was not their intention to cause harm or offence and they sincerely regretted any offence that had been caused.
Unilever said the ad was part of the current Lynx Excite campaign which had been running across various media and, in particular tied in with TV ads featuring the same imagery and strapline: "The cleaner you are, the dirtier you get". They pointed out that the ASA had received complaints about those ads and, having considered them under the harm and offence rules of the BCAP Code, concluded that they were not in breach. They said they were aware that CBS Outdoor had sought a view on the poster from CAP Copy Advice who had advocated caution but not given a definitive comment either way. In light of that advice they had concluded that the poster was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.
1. Unilever said the poster made use of the cheeky and humorous tone commonly used in Lynx advertising but did not believe the content was inappropriate. The image selected included nothing overtly sexual, suggestive or provocative and was not indecent. They acknowledged that the woman's bikini top was undone and that she was holding it to her chest but argued that that tied in with the light-hearted tone without the resulting image being materially more revealing than if it were not undone. The model was pictured on a beach, which linked to the TV ads, and she was not undressed to an extent that would be in any way unusual in that location. They had been careful to ensure that the model's expression, while reflecting the light-hearted tone, was in no way unduly suggestive, provocative or indecent. They said the overall feel of the campaign, the poster and Lynx advertising over the years was cartoonish and believed that it was unlikely to be seen as objectifying or demeaning to women or to cause serious or widespread offence on that basis.
Unilever said the strapline "THE CLEANER YOU ARE THE DIRTIER YOU GET" was intended as a playful innuendo and the key point stylistically was the use of the word "DIRTIER" in contrast to being cleaner as a result of using the shower gel. They said the strapline was not intended to convey any particular message about sex or sexual relationships in the real world and did not believe that it would be understood to do so.
Unilever said they did not agree that the poster glamorised casual sex. They said it relied on humorous innuendo but did not include inappropriate or overtly sexual content or direct sexual references. They reiterated that the tone was cartoonish and, in that context, did not consider that it could be said to glamorise, promote or encourage any particular attitude or approach towards sex in the real world or cause serious or widespread offence on that basis.
2. Unilever said the target demographic for Lynx Excite was over 16 years of age, however, for the reasons given in their response to point 1 they did not believe it would cause serious or widespread offence even when viewed by a broader audience. They said the poster had been prepared with a sense of responsibility to society as a whole and the image of the model was neither overtly sexual nor indecent, was light-hearted in feel and could be considered to be less revealing than many other, tonally more serious, shower bath or beauty product ads. They said, ultimately, it depicted a woman dressed appropriately for the beach, under a shower in an ad for a shower gel. They said the innuendo used was deliberately at the milder end of the spectrum, as befitting an untargeted medium, and they did not feel that it would be invested with any specific, inappropriate message if viewed by a younger audience.
3. Unilever said they did not believe that the poster would be understood to convey any particular sexual message and did not include any content which served to promote promiscuity.
CBS Outdoor said, after receiving advice from CAP Copy Advice that the poster was on the borderline of acceptability for an untargeted medium, they had declined to run the poster on the initially booked campaign for 150 sites across London Underground. They said instead, based on an agreement with Unilever that the design would be removed if they received complaints; they ran a much reduced campaign on 40 sites across some National Rail stations. They were not aware of having received any complaints directly but said, as the campaign had now ended, they would ensure that all of the posters were removed. They said the ASA's final decision would assist them in determining the designs that they accepted in future.
Clear Channel said they had considered the poster's content and whether it would breach the Code. They said, while they did not perceive there to be a strict breach of the terms of the Code, they were conscious that there may be sections of the public who may be sensitive to the images and language that the ad contained. In light of that they had taken the decision not to display the poster in an untargeted medium and excluded many areas from the campaign. They said the poster was therefore not displayed near any schools (both primary and secondary) to minimise the exposure to children; in areas in which there was a majority ethnic population or those areas near to religious places of worship, to reduce any cultural or religious sensitivities; or in areas in which they had received complaints regarding ads before. They said, prior to display, Clear Channel also made Unilever aware that it believed the poster may provoke a range of opinions and be the subject of some complaints. They said Clear Channel had received two complaints directly at the end of July relating to the poster's appearance at bus stops in Barnet and Stafford and in both cases it was promptly removed from those sites.
The ASA noted that CBS Outdoor had sought a view on the poster from CAP Copy Advice. We did not agree with Unilever that this advice was equivocal. Rather, Copy Advice told CBS Outdoor that it was likely the poster would generate complaints which would be passed to the ASA’s Investigations team and that the ASA Council may well be minded to “uphold”. They were told that the combination of the image and the tag line, in an untargeted medium, were “quite likely to be regarded as problematic”.
The ASA previously considered two TV ads from the same campaign which featured a group of women in bikinis at a beach mimicking the behaviour of a man taking a shower, and which also featured the statement “The cleaner you are, the dirtier you get” in the voice-over and on screen. We had concluded that those ads did not warrant investigation. However, that decision was in part due to both ads having been given timing restrictions by Clearcast so that they could not be broadcast before 7.30pm and 9.30pm respectively and could not be shown during, or adjacent to, programmes likely to appeal strongly to children. Although we considered that those TV ads were unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence we considered that the poster, an untargeted medium likely to be seen by a wide variety of audiences and age groups, needed to be considered on its own merits and outside the context of the wider campaign.
We noted that the poster featured a woman standing under a beach shower wearing bikini bottoms and holding a bikini top against her breasts. While we considered that the poster was not graphic or indecent we noted that the woman’s bikini top was undone and that the ad also included the statement “THE CLEANER YOU ARE THE DIRTIER YOU GET”. We considered that that statement, particularly placed next to a picture of a woman with an unfastened bikini top and reinforced by the statement “GET DIRTY THIS SUMMER” at the bottom of the poster, was clearly intended to imply that using the advertised product would lead to more uninhibited sexual behaviour. We therefore considered that the poster would be seen to make a link between purchasing the product and sex with women and in so doing would be seen to objectify women.
We also considered that the combination of the image and the suggestive text, in a poster on public display, was likely to be considered offensive by many members of the public, particularly those who were accompanied by children. We concluded that the poster was likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
On this point the poster breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 4.1 (Harm and Offence).
We noted that efforts had been made by Clear Channel to limit the locations in which the poster was displayed. Nonetheless, we noted that some of the complainants reported that they had seen the poster near schools and on their way to school.
For the reasons given in point 1 above, we considered that the image and the text were likely to be considered offensive and we were also concerned that a number of the complainants had had the ad pointed out to them by their young children or been asked by them to explain the meaning of the text. We considered that the suggestive nature of the image and the strong innuendo were not acceptable for public display where they might be seen by children and concluded that the poster was irresponsible on this point.
On this point the poster breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.3 (Social responsibility).
3. Not upheld
We noted that 12 complainants were concerned that the image in the poster, and particularly the text were irresponsible because they encouraged promiscuity. We noted that many of those complainants had raised concerns about societal attitudes to casual sex, the prevalence of unwanted and underage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. While we took those concerns seriously, we noted that the poster did not feature a sex scene or refer to or suggest that unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners was desirable, or should be sought out. We concluded that the poster was not irresponsible on this point.
On this point we investigated the poster under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.3 (Social responsibility) but did not find it in breach.
The poster must not appear again in its current form.