Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
A tweet and two poster ads for sports bras, seen in February 2022:
a. A tweet on Adidas’ own account showed, in a grid format, the bare breasts of 20 women of various skin colours, shapes and sizes. The pictures were identically cropped to show only the torso from below the shoulders to above the navel. It stated, “We believe women’s breasts in all shapes and sizes deserve support and comfort. Which is why our new sports bra range contains 43 styles, so everyone can find the right fit for them. Explore the new adidas sports bra collection at LINK. #SupportIsEverything”.
b. A poster showed the same cropped images of the bare breasts of 62 women and stated, “The reasons we didn’t make just one new sports bra”.
c. A poster showed the same text and cropped images of 64 women, but their nipples were obscured by pixelation.
The ASA received 24 complaints.
1. Some complainants, who considered the ads’ use of nudity was gratuitous, objectified women by sexualising them and reducing them to body parts, challenged whether they were harmful and offensive; and
2. Some complainants also challenged whether ads (b) and (c) were appropriate for display where it could be seen by children.
1. Adidas UK Ltd believed the images in the ads were not gratuitous; they were intended to reflect and celebrate different shapes and sizes, illustrate diversity and demonstrate why tailored support bras were important. They said the images had been cropped to protect the identity of the models and to ensure their safety. All the models shown had volunteered to be in the ad and were supportive of its aims. They did not consider the ad to be sexual; they intended to show breasts simply as a part of a woman’s body.
They said their agency had submitted the ads at brief stage to CAP’s Copy Advice team, who had advised that the images were not sexual and did not appear to objectify women, but that there was risk attached to the use of nudity in commercial advertising, especially in untargeted spaces. Adidas said that, as a result of that advice, they had not placed the ads near schools or religious venues.
Twitter said ad (a) was an organic, not a paid-for, tweet. It had been reported by some users, but was not found to be in breach of their terms of service.
2. Adidas said that the pictures were intended to reflect and celebrate different shapes and sizes and they did not believe they would cause harm or distress to children.
1. & 2. Upheld
The ASA acknowledged that the intention of the ads was to show that women’s breasts differed in shape and size, which was relevant to the sports bras being advertised. Although we did not consider that the way the women were portrayed was sexually explicit or objectified them, we considered that the depiction of naked breasts was likely to be seen as explicit nudity. We noted the breasts were the main focus in the ads, and there was less emphasis on the bras themselves, which were only referred to in the accompanying text.
We acknowledged that in ad (c) the women’s nipples had been obscured by pixelation. Although the image was less immediately explicit, we considered that the breasts were still visible and recognisably naked, and therefore the effect of the image would be the same as in the ads (a) and (b).
As the ads contained explicit nudity, we considered that they required careful targeting to avoid causing offence to those who viewed them.
Ads (b) and (c), which were large posters, appeared in untargeted media and were therefore likely to be seen by people of all ages, including children. We considered that the image was not suitable for use in untargeted media, particularly where it could be seen by children. We concluded that ads (b) and (c) were inappropriately targeted, and were likely to cause widespread offence.
We noted the content typically featured on the Adidas Twitter feed promoted their sportswear for women and considered explicit nudity was not in keeping with their usual content. Because ad (a) featured explicit nudity, we concluded it was likely to cause widespread offence in that media.
We therefore concluded that the ads breached the Code.
On point 1, ads (a), (b) and (c) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule
Marketing communications must not contain anything that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Particular care must be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of: age; disability; gender; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; and sexual orientation. Compliance will be judged on the context, medium, audience, product and prevailing standards.
Marketing communications may be distasteful without necessarily breaching this rule. Marketers are urged to consider public sensitivities before using potentially offensive material.
The fact that a product is offensive to some people is not grounds for finding a marketing communication in breach of the Code. (Harm and offence).
On point 2, ads (b) and (c) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.3 1.3 Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society. (Social responsibility).
The ads must not appear again in the forms complained of. We told Adidas UK Ltd to ensure their ads did not cause offence and were targeted responsibly.