Three emails for Box Menswear, an online underwear retailer, seen in November 2021:
a. The first email included a subject line which stated, “How did this happen so fast?”. The email included a headline image showing a topless man wearing pink briefs in which the outline of his penis was visible.
b. The second email included a subject line which stated, “Important Announce [sic] – Black Friday 2021” and contained several images of topless men wearing briefs. An image at the top of the ad showed a man stood in a shower, wearing wet, white briefs which showed his penis. A black and white image further down the email features a topless man wearing white briefs in which the outline of his penis was visible.
c. The third email included a subject line which stated, “The website is OPEN. GO!”. The email included several images of topless men wearing briefs. The second image showed a topless man, with his arms across his chest, and wearing mesh boxers through which his penis was visible. Further down the email, two separate images featured two different men wearing tracksuit bottoms in which the outline of both of their penises were visible.
IssueThe complainant, who believed the ads were sexually explicit, challenged whether the ads were offensive.
Box Menswear Ltd said they did not agree that the images were sexually explicit or that the ads were offensive. They said that Box Menswear was a men’s clothing retailer, whose audience was predominantly LGBTQ+, and that the ads had been designed to appeal to this market. Box Menswear also said that the majority of their products were underwear and, in relation to the mesh boxers featured in ad (c), they said that the product was partially see-through and consequently the model’s penis was visible as a result.
Box Menswear said that the ad was targeted to those who had subscribed to their mailing list by visiting the website or had previously purchased a product from the website. The recipients of the ads therefore understood the sexual nature of the images Box Menswear used to promote their products.
Upheld in relation to ads (b) and (c) only
Ads (b) and (c) showed images where models’ penises were either visible or where the penis was clearly shown through their clothing. The ASA therefore considered the ads contained sexually explicit content. While we accepted that the specifications of certain products, such as the mesh boxers featured in ad (c), would mean elements of nudity were unavoidable, we considered that the way in which the images were styled created a visual emphasis on the models’ penises, rather than the clothing products themselves. We therefore considered that the sexually explicit nature of the images in the ads extended beyond just showing the products.
As the ads contained sexually explicit material, we considered that they required careful targeting to avoid causing offence to those who viewed them. The ASA acknowledged comments from Box Menswear that recipients of the ads would have likely visited the Box Menswear website and subsequently subscribed to their mailing list. However, we considered the images featured in the ads were more sexually explicit than the images generally featured on the website. We also considered that the subject line of the emails “Important Announce [sic] – Black Friday 2021”, and “The website is OPEN. GO!”, did not make it clear to recipients that the ads would contain sexually explicit content.
Ad (a) showed an image where the outline of the model’s penis was visible. However, unlike ads (b) and (c), we considered the material in ad (a) was consistent with that presented on the Box Menswear website. We therefore considered ad (a) was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.
Because we considered that the images in ads (b) and (c) were sufficiently explicit to be likely to cause serious offence and we understood that they did not appear against an established context of similar content on the website, we concluded that the ads were likely to cause serious offence to some recipients.
Ads (b) and (c) breached CAP (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). We also investigated ad (a) under that rule, but did not find it in breach.
The ads must not appear again in the form complained of. We told Box Menswear Ltd to avoid using images which were likely to cause serious offence.