A press ad for American Apparel appeared on the back cover of Vice Magazine and pictured a girl sitting on an office chair wearing a jumper, knickers and knee-length socks. She was posed with her legs up on the chair and her knickers were visible.
Two complainants, who believed the ad appeared to sexualise a child, objected that the ad was offensive and irresponsible.
American Apparel (UK) Ltd (American Apparel) did not believe the ad was offensive or irresponsible. They said the model featured was over 18 years of age and was shown wearing products that were meant for adult consumers. They said they placed the ad in Vice magazine, which was a publication written for adults. They said the model wore clothes which were available for sale in their stores and online, in this case underwear and a sweater.
Vice Magazine did not believe the ad was offensive or irresponsible. They said the ad featured a woman wearing socks, underwear and a top and there was nothing to suggest anything overtly sexual or inappropriate was being portrayed. They also pointed out it contained no nudity. They believed that in the wider context of fashion and underwear advertising the image was tame and tasteful. They did not believe the average person would find the image offensive. They did not believe the model appeared to be underage. American Apparel had since confirmed to them that the model was over 18 years of age.
The ASA considered that the model pictured appeared to be young and potentially under the age of 16. Whilst we acknowledged the image did not contain any explicit nudity, we considered that the amateur style of the photo, the posing of the model with her legs up on an office style chair with her knickers showing and the unsmiling expression on the model's face meant the photo would be interpreted as having sexual undertones and a voyeuristic quality. We concluded the ad inappropriately sexualised a model who appeared to be a child and was therefore irresponsible.
We had not seen demographic data for Vice Magazine but understood it was intended for an adult audience. However, we concluded that because it appeared to sexualise a child the ad was likely to cause serious or widespread offence in a magazine that was untargeted and freely available.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society.
(Social responsibility) and
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 race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age. 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).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told American Apparel not to depict any model as inappropriately sexualised who could, through their appearance or styling, appear to be a child.