Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated. Ad (a) was Upheld in relation to both issues. Ads (b) and (c) were Not Upheld in relation to both issues.
Three posters for Calvin Klein, seen in April 2023:
a. The first poster featured the singer FKA Twigs who was shown wearing a denim shirt that was drawn halfway around her body, leaving the side of her buttocks and half of one breast exposed. Text at the top of the poster stated “Calvins or nothing”.
b. The second poster, which appeared alongside ad (a), featured the model and media personality Kendall Jenner who was shown, from side-on, topless with her hands held across her bare chest, and a pair of jeans on her bottom half. At the top of the poster was the same text as ad (a).
c. The third poster featured Kendall Jenner who was shown lying on her back, wearing underwear and pulling down a pair of jeans past her hips. Text superimposed, and which went partly across Jenner’s crotch, stated “Calvins or nothing”.
The ASA received two complaints.The complainants, who believed the images were overly sexualised, challenged whether the ads were:
1. offensive and irresponsible, because they objectified women; and
2. inappropriate for display in an untargeted medium.
1. & 2. Calvin Klein Inc. said the ads were similar to ads they had been publishing in the UK for many years. They said that they were well known for being a pioneering and progressive brand that engaged in a range of equity and equality focused partnerships. In their view, the ads did not overly sexualise Kendall Jenner or FKA Twigs and were not irresponsible. Both models had collaborated with Calvin Klein to produce the images and had approved them before publication. Calvin Klein said the images were not vulgar and were of two confident and empowered women who had chosen to identify with the Calvin Klein brand, and that the ads contained a progressive and enlightened message. They provided excerpts from interviews that Jenner and FKA Twigs had given to magazines about the ad campaign as evidence that they felt a sense of empowerment and confidence from having participated in it. They said that the style of the imagery in the ads was not overtly risqué and did not encourage the public to view the model’s body as an object. They highlighted that well-known men had also featured in the campaign, which suggested that it was not focused on sexualising women.
Regarding the level of nudity in the ads, Calvin Klein said the ads were for clothing, including underwear, and so a degree of nudity should be expected. They explained the “Calvins or nothing” slogan was intended to mean there was no substitute for a Calvin Klein product and was a gender-neutral call to arms. Additionally, all conventionally sensitive body areas were fully covered in the ads, and the subjects were in natural and neutral positions. They said that while the outside of FKA Twigs’ breast was visible, the breast itself was obscured, and in Kendall Jenner’s case, in ad (b), her arms and hands covered her breasts.
BuildHollywood, who owned the relevant poster sites, said they had interpreted the images as beautiful and celebratory of women, and that neither FKA Twigs nor Kendall Jenner were depicted in an overly sexual manner. They added that, because of a regular change over cycle, the ads were no longer being displayed.
1. Upheld in relation to ad (a) only
The ASA understood the ads were for the Calvin Klein brand and their range of clothes, and that they formed part of a wider campaign that also included images of well-known men. However, not all of the ads in the campaign were displayed together. We therefore assessed the ads under investigation on the merits of their individual content and the context in which they were displayed.
Ad (a) showed FKA Twigs modelling a denim shirt. FKA Twigs’ buttocks and breast were exposed, and her shirt was draped over one shoulder and drawn halfway across her body. We considered the image’s composition placed viewers’ focus on the model’s body rather than on the clothing being advertised. The ad used nudity and centred on FKA Twig’s physical features rather than the clothing, to the extent that it presented her as a stereotypical sexual object. We therefore concluded ad (a) was irresponsible and likely to cause serious offence.
In ad (b), Kendall Jenner was shown from the side, with her head and shoulders on the floor and her legs raised, wearing a pair of jeans, with her arms crossed over her bare chest. We considered that the image was stylised, due to Jenner’s pose, and that while the image did contain a degree of nudity, it did not focus on the model’s body more generally in a manner that portrayed her as a sexual object.
In ad (c), Kendall Jenner was shown lying down wearing underwear with a pair of jeans pulled down just past her hips, and the camera positioned directly above her. We considered that the ad had a sexual element to it due to Kendall Jenner lying down in front of the viewer in a state of partial undress with a seductive facial expression. The slogan, “Calvins or nothing” was placed over her crotch and this had the effect of drawing the viewer’s attention towards it. We considered, however, that this was likely to be interpreted as an ad for lingerie, given the prominence of the underwear Jenner wore in the image. Additionally, the level of nudity was not beyond that which people would expect for a lingerie ad.
We concluded that ads (b) and (c) were unlikely to be seen as irresponsible or cause serious or widespread offence on the basis of objectification.
On that point, ad (a) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 (Responsible advertising), 4.1 and 4.9 (Harm and offence). We also investigated ads (b) and (c) under those rules, but did not find them in breach.
2. Upheld in relation to ad (a) only
The images had appeared on posters, an untargeted medium, where they were likely to be seen by children and adults. We considered all of the ads included images of women who were sexualised to a degree. We understood the posters had not been placed within 100 metres of a school. Notwithstanding the fact that ad (a) was unsuitable on the grounds of objectification, we considered whether the level of sexualisation in each of the ads was appropriate for general display.
Ad (a) depicted FKA Twigs with a shirt partially draped around her body, and in doing so showed half of one breast and the side of her buttocks. Her nudity and facial expression, including a direct gaze and open mouth, gave the image an overall sexual overture. We therefore considered ad (a) was overtly sexual and was not suitable for display in an untargeted medium.
Ad (b) featured an image of Kendall Jenner wearing jeans and with her arms and hands crossed over her bare chest. We considered that while Jenner was partially nude, all sensitive body areas were covered, and the image was no more than mildly sexual.
In ad (c) the camera was positioned above Kendall Jenner while she lay down facing upwards wearing a bra and pants. She held a pair of jeans part way up her thighs. The ad’s slogan “Calvins or nothing” was placed across her upper thigh and hip and had the effect of drawing the viewer’s attention to her crotch. Her face carried a sultry expression – she gazed directly at the viewer with her lips parted. Taking all of these elements into account, we considered the image was sexually suggestive. Images of that nature warranted a placement restriction to limit the likelihood of children viewing them, such that they should not appear within 100 metres of schools. We understood that restriction had been applied to the image.
On that point ad (a) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.3 (Responsible advertising). We also investigated ads (b) and (c) under that rule, but did not find them in breach.
Ad (a) must not appear again in the form complained of. We told Calvin Klein Inc. to ensure that future ads did not irresponsibly objectify women and were targeted appropriately.