An ad for BOCA organic toothpastes was seen in the Raconteur supplement which was included in the Times newspaper on 28 July 2017. The ad featured a black and white image of the body of a naked woman, who was wearing only a pair of strappy heels. The woman in the image was shown reclining in a chair and facing a window, with one leg placed on top of a table by the window and the other on the ground. Her buttocks and her groin area were obscured by the arm of the chair. The woman was also shown to be holding a tube of the product.
Two complainants, who believed that the ad objectified women, challenged whether the ad was offensive.
Croftscope Ltd t/a BOCA stated that the model in the ad was not naked. They said, for some people, there was a fine line between sexual objectification and the expression of sensuality. However, they felt that the image in the ad supported the sensual and organic nature of their product and they vigorously defended the ad as a celebration of that.
BOCA also stated their target audience was predominantly female, with an aspirational lifestyle characterised by luxury and self-indulgence. That target audience formed a segment of the market that aspired to elegance and style. They believed the image chosen for the ad reflected those qualities. They also stated that their products uniquely featured day and overnight formulations, and the latter promoted relaxation prior to retiring. They said the image demonstrated the model in a relaxed pose that was commensurate with the product.
Raconteur Media Ltd stated that they did not believe that the image of the woman in the ad was overtly sexual as she was mostly obscured by the chair in the image, with only one leg being visible. They also did not believe that the image objectified women as the ad was demure in its setting.
The ASA noted that the image in the ad showed only parts of the model’s body, including the lower parts of her breasts, her stomach, and her bare legs. We noted that her buttocks and groin area had been obscured by the arm of the chair, and her head, the top parts of the arms and torso, including her nipples, were out of the frame and therefore were not visible. We noted BOCA’s comments that the model in the ad was not naked and acknowledged that the ad did not include explicit nudity. However, we considered that the way in which the model was depicted gave the impression that the model was fully nude.
We considered that the pose of the model, particularly given that she was shown as reclining with her parted legs facing an open window, was sexually provocative, giving the ad a voyeuristic feel. Furthermore, because the model’s face was not shown, we considered that the visible parts of her torso, including her lower portion of her breasts, and the lower half of her body became the visual emphasis of the ad, which was likely to draw readers’ attention. We also considered that the nudity and the pose of the model, and the provocative nature of the ad, bore no relevance to the product. Because the ad placed visual emphasis on the model’s body in a sexualised manner and such nudity was unrelated to the product, we considered that the ad objectified the model depicted and invited readers to view her body as a sexual object. For those reason, we considered that the ad objectified women and concluded that it was likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
The ad 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 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 BOCA to ensure that future advertising did not cause widespread or serious offence by objectifying women.