Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.
Marketing communications featuring gratuitous use of nudity can cause serious or widespread offence but marketers will find the public is generally more tolerant of it if the nudity is relevant to the advertised product; lingerie and beauty products are good examples for which nudity can generally be used without offending (H&M Hennes & Mauritz UK Ltd, 4 April 2012; Calvin Klein, 18 January 2012). However, trying to make nudity relevant by, for example, using puns or sexual innuendo is unlikely to render the ad acceptable. One ad for fastener cover caps featured a naked woman photographed from the back, with the shot slightly angled from below, wearing ski boots, gloves and skis, and carrying ski poles. Red text stating “COVER UP” partially obscured her bottom. The ASA considered the female nudity was gratuitous, and that the nudity and styling, as well as the woman’s pose was degrading to women and likely to cause serious offence (Pro-Dec Products Ltd t/a ScrewCaps UK, 29 November 2017).
Marketers should be aware that advertising products for which nudity is relevant does not mean they have an absolute freedom to depict nudity, and they should take care to ensure that any nudity does not degrade people and is appropriately targeted. In 2015 the ASA ruled against a poster for a nude lap dancing club in Croydon. The image depicted a naked woman lying down from behind with two men looking at her breasts and crotch. Whilst the ASA acknowledged that the image was relevant to the nature of the club being advertised, they considered that it was likely to be seen as objectifying, and demeaning women, was likely to cause serious or widespread offence and was unsuitable for public display, particularly where it could be seen by children (WDV Talent Agency-London Ltd t/a Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club, 16 September 2015).
As ever, the choice of medium is important; marketers can try and avoid causing serious or widespread offence by ensuring that they use a medium suitable to reach the target audience. For example, visuals that are unsuitable for relatively untargeted media such as posters may be acceptable in more targeted media. Advertisers should be aware that explicit nudity, particularly if it is also sexually provocative, is rarely considered acceptable unless the ad is very specifically targeted. The ASA investigated a complaint for an ad for bras which appeared on snapchat. The complainant felt that the nudity in the ad was offensive and degrading towards women and that it was irresponsibly targeted where children could see it. Whist the ASA considered that the level of nudity was not overly sexualised or objectifying, and was related to the product, because the ad was likely to have been seen by children they ruled that it had been irresponsibly targeted (AN & Associates t/a www.perfectsculptbras.com, 08 November 2017).
Ads that feature a degree of nudity that is neither explicit nor sexualised are less likely to be considered problematic even in untargeted media (The Ambassador Theatre Group, 22 February 2012). Marketers are nevertheless urged to be mindful of local sensitivities when featuring nudity or potentially provocative images; posters that appear close to schools or places of worship risk offending the likely audience. See ‘Taste and Decency: Religion’.
Marketers should bear in mind that they could be made to pre-vet their posters for two years if they use a poster found to be offensive.