Sexual imagery in outdoor advertising: drawing the line

Following the Department for Education’s report on the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood, authored by Reg Bailey, the ASA reviewed its assessment of sexual imagery in outdoor advertising. In light of concerns identified in the report and in its own research, the ASA signalled a clear change of approach: to be stricter in regulating such material, specifically with the aim of protecting children from inappropriate or harmful ads.

Interpretation of the ASA’s guidance

Since publishing its statement on outdoor advertising the ASA has been busily considering complaints about relevant ads. Its adjudications provide greater clarity about where the ASA draws the line in this particularly subjective area of regulation.

In November 2011, the ASA considered complaints about a poster for Lynx shower gel:
The ASA thought the image was neither sexually graphic nor indecent but it considered that the combination of the image and the suggestive text clearly implied a link between the product and uninhibited sexual behaviour. It considered that in a poster on public display this was likely to be considered offensive by many members of the public, particularly those who were accompanied by children. This ruling is indicative of the stricter approach the ASA is taking to outdoor advertising of this nature.

In March 2012, a poster for J D Williams fell under the ASA’s spotlight:

In this case, the ASA noted the image used was relevant to the product being advertised and deemed that the ad’s content was not overtly sexual. In making its decision, the ASA noted the advertiser had ensured that the poster would not appear within 100 meters of a school, thereby reducing the number of children likely to see it; in light of this the ASA ruled not to uphold the complaint.


In January 2012, the ASA received complaints about a poster for an album by Steel Panther:

Due to the graphic nature of the image and the allusion to male genitalia in conjunction with the album title "BALLS OUT" the ASA upheld the complaints. The ad was judged to be overtly sexual in nature and was therefore considered unsuitable for display in an untargeted medium where it was likely to be seen by children.

In February 2012, this poster for Mems DIY attracted the ASA’s attention:

In this case, the ASA noted that the woman's pose and dress were sexually provocative and had the effect of making her appear sexually available. It also considered that in conjunction with the image the text could be interpreted as innuendo and therefore judged that the ad was overtly sexual, objectified women and was therefore unsuitable for display in an untargeted medium.

The ASA considered complaints about this Channel 5 poster in February 2012:

Here, the ASA considered that there was no explicit nudity in the image, as although the woman appeared not to be wearing any clothes she was covered by magazines, and that the image did not draw undue attention to the woman’s body parts in a sexual way. The ASA also noted that her facial expression and pose were not sexual in nature and therefore ruled that whilst some members of the public might find the ad distasteful it was not irresponsibly placed and was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence to the public in general, or to cause harm to children.


The ASA’s recent decisions clearly reflect the stricter approach that is being taken to the use of sexually suggestive imagery in outdoor advertising, and other untargeted mediums. Whilst it is clear that the ASA considers that a certain level of nudity is potentially acceptable, if it is relevant to the product for example, it is also clear that combining this type of imagery with innuendo or sexual overtones can lead advertisers into trouble. For further guidance on this subject we recommend that you contact the CAP Copy Advice team.

CAP Copy Advice

The CAP Copy Advice team has produced further guidance on what is, and is not, likely to be considered acceptable in outdoor advertising in light of the new approach being applied by the ASA. But those wishing for additional specific guidance can seek advice, before publication, from the CAP Copy Advice Team.


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