A website for the clothing retailer Boohoo, www.boohoo.com, seen on 26 November 2021, featured a product listing for a T-shirt. Two images in the ad showed a model wearing the T-shirt with only thong-style bikini bottoms and trainers; one was a rear view that showed her kneeling, the other showed her sitting on the ground with her legs apart. Another image was an upper-body shot that showed the model lifting the T-shirt as if to remove it and exposing the skin on her stomach and side.
IssueThe complainant, who believed that the images objectified and sexualised women, challenged whether the ad was offensive, harmful and irresponsible.
ResponseBoohoo.com UK Ltd said the images were part of their swimwear category and explained that the model was wearing the T-shirt with a bikini. As a brand they often combined a variety of products in their images to show how items could be worn in different ways. They said that the way they presented their garments reflected the diversity of women in society and their customer base.Boohoo said that they understood the importance of the issues raised and had removed the images from their website.
The ASA understood that although it had been presented as part of the swimwear category, the advertised product was an oversized T-shirt and the product listing appeared as a result of searches for T-shirts or tops.
In one of the images, the model was shown from the rear in a kneeling position and we noted that the T-shirt was folded under so that the bikini bottoms and the model’s buttocks and naked legs were visible and prominent. We considered that the image emphasised the model’s buttocks and legs rather than the product and that she was posed in a sexually suggestive way from behind, with her hand appearing to be tucked into the bikini bottoms at the front.
In another image the model was sitting with her legs spread apart so that the focus was on her crotch and we considered that pose was also sexually suggestive, taking into account that she was wearing the T-shirt folded under again and with only the bikini bottoms on her lower half.
In a third image, the model was wearing the T-shirt with trousers over the bikini bottoms. However, she was seen lifting the T-shirt to expose her stomach and side and we considered the emphasis of that image was also her exposed skin rather than the product.
We also noted that neither the partial nudity nor the bikini bottoms were relevant to the product and that the images did not show the product as it would usually be worn.
For those reasons, we concluded that the ad objectified and sexualised women. It was therefore irresponsible and likely to cause serious offence.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society.
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. and 4.9 4.9 Marketing communications must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence.
See Advertising Guidance: “Depicting gender stereotypes likely to cause harm or serious or widespread offence?” (Harm and offence).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Boohoo.com UK Ltd to ensure that future ads were prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society and that they did not cause serious or widespread offence or harm by objectifying women.