Summary of Council decision:
Four issues were investigated, of which one was Upheld and three were Not upheld.
Two TV ads and a poster for clothing retailer Prettylittlething.com:
a. The first TV ad, seen during Dinner Date on ITVBe on 12 April 2017, featured two young female models modelling various outfits to a soundtrack in the middle of a flat desert plain.
b. The second TV ad, seen during Cake Wars on ITVBe on 6 June 2017, featured two young female models modelling different outfits to a soundtrack in various locations, such as a volley ball court and hotel swimming pool.
c. The poster, seen in a subway tunnel to the Natural History Museum in London on 18 May 2017, featured the same female models in ad (b) modelling outfits whilst leaning against a car.
The ASA received three complaints:
1. one complainant, who believed the models featured appeared to be children and had been portrayed in a sexualised manner, challenged whether ad (a) was irresponsible;
2. the second complainant also challenged whether ad (c) was irresponsible, for the same reason;
3. the ASA challenged whether ad (b) was irresponsible, again for the same reason; and
4. the third complainant challenged whether ad (b) was inappropriately scheduled to be shown when children might see it.
1. 21 Three Clothing Company Ltd t/a Prettylittlething.com explained that the models featured in the ad were 23 and 24 years old respectively. They stated that ad (a) did not portray the models in a sexualised manner. The ad was set in the middle of the desert with fun and colourful props such a rainbow coloured bike, oversized fans and umbrellas. They stated that the props created a bright and happy theme to the ad. The styles of clothing worn by the models in the ad were on-trend pieces designed for the festival season, because many of their customers were festival ‘goers’.
Clearcast stated that they considered that the models looked above the age of 18 and were neither acting nor portrayed in an irresponsibly sexualised manner. They said that their internal viewing panel felt that the tone of the ad was in line with the summer or festival spirit of the products and the models featured were neither childlike nor indecent or overly sexualised. For those reasons, they considered that the ad did not require a scheduling restriction.
2. Prettylittlething.com explained that the models featured in ad (c) were 23 and 25 years of age. The ads were based around high summer holiday styles. For the summer season, they created bright and colourful scenes that showed their models laughing and having fun which their customers, who were young girls, could relate to when choosing their holiday styles. They did not feel that the portrayal of the models was irresponsible.
Exterion Media stated that they had sought pre-publication advice from CAP Copy Advice, and had been advised that it was unlikely to be in breach of the CAP Code. They did not place any restrictions on placement for the ad and they were not aware of any complaints being received directly.
3. Prettylittlething.com pointed out that the models in ad (b) were the same as ad (c), and that for the same reasons they did not think the ad was irresponsible.
Clearcast stated that they considered neither the content nor the tone of ad (b) were irresponsible to audiences or society. Their internal viewing panel acknowledged that some of the models' poses could be considered suggestive, but determined that the ad did not contain sexual material or innuendos. The models did not appear childlike and were not undertaking activities which suggested childlike behaviour. They also considered that the clothes featured in the ad, whilst revealing, were typical of summer fashions worn during hot weather, and were not unnecessarily sexual or displaying non-sexual nudity to a degree that warranted scheduling restrictions.
4. Prettylittlething.com said they did not feel that ad (b) was inappropriately scheduled to be shown around Cake Wars, as the content of the ad was based around summer time, friendship and dressing on trend. They felt that the ad was in line with many other fashion brands that advertised around the programme and the time at which it was shown.
Clearcast reiterated their response to point 3 and their view that the ad did not require a scheduling restriction.
ITV Broadcasting Ltd stated that they considered ad (b) to have been appropriately scheduled. They said Clearcast approved the ad without timing restrictions, and in relation to the issue raised, no 'ex kids' scheduling restrictions. They said Cake Wars was an American reality competition serious that was featured on ITVBe, and other cable and TV channels unrelated to ITV. The format of the programme consisted of a competition where four bakers competed to have their cakes featured in a special event. They stated that Cake Wars was not a programme commissioned for, or principally directed at children. ITV explained that based on the Broadcaster's Audience Research Board (BARB) data, which they pointed out indicated that the programme was well below the '120 threshold' where a scheduling restriction was likely to apply, they did not consider Cake Wars to be of 'particular appeal' to children.
The ASA understood that all of the models in ads (a), (b) and (c) were aged over 16. The models were not therefore children for the purposes of the Codes and we concluded that they did not portray or represent children in a sexual way. Notwithstanding that, we also considered whether the ads featured models who appeared to be under the age of 16 and portrayed them in a sexualised manner, and were therefore socially irresponsible.
We noted that in some scenes, the models featured were acting in a manner that could be considered as juvenile and mischievous – e.g., both models were seen twirling, one model was swinging off an arch and in a later scene, clambering on one of the letters of the giant 'PLT' signs. We noted that the make-up and styling were reminiscent of 1990s teenagers' fashion, in particular the model who was wearing two high buns on the top of her head. We also noted that particular model had smooth facial features, doe eyes, long lashes and a lean frame which gave her a very youthful appearance. Although we understood that she was over the age of 21, we considered that she appeared younger because of her appearance and mannerisms. Further, we also considered that the outfits shown, the colourful props and set, and the name of the brand, contributed to the overall impression that that model was a child.
Although the outfits shown were generally reflective of the type of outfits popular with some music festival goers, and that the background and colourful set was evocative of summer festivals, we noted that some of the outfits featured – e.g., short body con dresses, a body suit worn without tights, low cut strappy bralette with short denim shorts, a thin cross-over bandeau – were tight fitting or revealing. In a number of scenes, the models were seen posing. Some of their stances consisted of traditional model poses used to accentuate the clothing, but nonetheless drew attention to their chests and bottoms. For example, there were a number of scenes which showed the models standing with their backs towards the camera, and looking back into the camera with their arms raised, which emphasised their body shapes. In one particular scene, one of the models was seen adopting the same pose and gazing flirtatiously at the camera, and because she was wearing a loose jacket and a white bodysuit, her buttocks were partially exposed. Furthermore, we considered that some of the models' facial expressions seen during the ad were sultry and seductive. We considered that the combination of the models' poses, their expressions and their outfits meant that the ad was sexually suggestive.
Given the reasons set out above, we considered that the ad portrayed a model who appeared to be under 16 in a manner that was sexually suggestive. We therefore concluded that the ad was irresponsible and in breach of the Code.
On that point, ad (a) breached BCAP Code rules 1.2 (Responsible advertising)
2. Not upheld
Ad (c) featured the same models as ad (b). We understood that the ad was submitted to CAP Copy Advice prior to publication, and they advised that the ad was likely to be acceptable. We noted that one of the models shown, who had brown hair with dyed green tips, was wearing a matching leopard print bandeau and high waist trousers. She was also leaning against the yellow cab and gazing into the camera. The other model featured was wearing a body suit with a deep V-cut neckline that was also featured in ad (b), which we considered to be quite revealing, and strappy shoes that were similar to jelly shoes, with her hair tied up in two top buns. She was leaning against a yellow cab with one of her elbows raised, which accentuated her body shape, and smiling and looking away from the camera. We considered that this model's pose, in combination with her outfit, was mildly sexual. However, although the models' demeanour in the ad appeared to be casual and playful, and their appearances were youthful, we did not consider that they looked like they were aged under 16. For that reason, we considered that ad (c) was not socially irresponsible by featuring children, or models who appeared to be under 16, in a sexualised manner, and concluded that the ad did not breach the Code.
On that point we investigated ad (c) under CAP Code rule 1.3 1.3 Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society. (Responsible advertising), but did not find it in breach.
3. Not upheld
We noted that one of the models featured in ad (b) was wearing her hair up in two buns, which was reminiscent of a hairstyle popular amongst young people in the 90s. The other model in the ad had dark brown hair with dyed green tips, which was similar to a previous hair style worn by celebrity Kylie Jenner. In one of the opening scenes of the ad, that model was seen smiling at the camera, pulling and twirling a piece of gum from her mouth. In a later scene, the same model was seen to step out of a yellow cab and making a kicking gesture towards the camera. Notwithstanding that those gestures could be regarded as juvenile, taking into account the appearance, physical frame, make-up and styling of both models, we considered that they appeared youthful, but did not look under 16 years of age. For those reasons, we considered that ad (b) was not socially irresponsible by featuring children, or models who appeared to be under 16, in a sexualised manner, and concluded that the ad did not breach the Code in that respect.
On that point we investigated ad (b) under BCAP Code rules 1.2 (Responsible advertising), but did not find it in breach.
4. Not upheld
Notwithstanding our assessment that ad (b) did not feature children, or models who appeared to be under 16, in a sexualised manner, we noted that a number of the outfits worn by the models in the ad were quite revealing and/or figure hugging. For example, in the opening scenes, one of the models was wearing a body suit that had a low cut neckline and was high legged, which drew attention to her chest and hips. The same model was shown in close-up in another scene wearing another body suit that had a very low V-cut neckline, which partially exposed her breasts and the outlines of the model's nipples were visible.
We also noted that in one scene, one of the models was wearing a strappy top and she tugged at her straps with her chest sticking out, pouting and looking at the camera seductively from behind her sunglasses. In another scene, one of the models was seen crouched down, eating a slice of watermelon and licking her finger in a coy manner. The scene that followed showed a model in a see-through knitted dress and the camera then focused on her bottom area. In the final scene of the ad, one of the models was wearing a matching bra and brief set, and she was seen leaning forward from behind a volley ball net and looking towards the camera, which accentuated her chest and hips.
In addition, we considered that the poses and mannerisms of the models throughout the ad were flirtatious and seductive, and drew attention to their body parts, notwithstanding that the objective of the ad was to advertise summer clothing. We considered that because of a combination of those factors, the ad was sexually suggestive and therefore should in future have a scheduling restriction that prevented it being shown in or adjacent to programmes commissioned for, principally directed at or likely to appeal particularly to children below the age of 16.
We noted that the ad had been scheduled at around 7.45 pm on ITVBe during Cake Wars, which we understood was a reality cake baking competition. We noted that BARB data indicated that children made up a relatively small proportion of the programme's audience at the time the it was shown and that it did not appear to be of particular appeal to children. On that basis, we did not consider that the scheduling decision for the ad to appear at that particular time during Cake Wars was irresponsible.
On that point, we investigated the ad under BCAP Code rules 1.2 (Responsible advertising) and 32.1 (Scheduling), but did not find it in breach.
Ad (a) should not appear in its current form again. We told Prettylittlething.com to ensure that future ads did not sexualise those who appeared to be children.