A regional press ad for family law solicitors Humphries Kirk LLP, seen in the Bournemouth Daily Echo on 25 June 2016, featured an image that showed the torso section of four female ballet dancers, who had their arms crossed over their chest. Text below the image stated "Protect your assets ... Our solicitors are on hand to give you expert advice about divorce, finances, prenups, property disputes and children issues".
The complainant, who believed the ad was sexist and objectified women, challenged whether the ad was offensive.
Humphries Kirk LLP stated that intention of the ad was to cause a 'double take' and to create a gentle innuendo, which they believed depicted the firm in a more human and approachable way.
Humphries Kirk said the ad did not contain any type of nudity or focused on the dancers’ bodies in a sexual manner. They also asserted that the ad did not show the ballet dancers in a demeaning, subservient or exploitative way, or use stereotypes, given that the people depicted were real ballet dancers and were shown doing something they had volunteered to do. They explained that part of the reason the dancers’ faces were omitted was that people in the local area might recognise the dancers and they wanted to preserve their anonymity. They also believed that recognition of the dancers might detract from the essence of the image.
Humphries Kirk believed a reasonable person would see the ad as light hearted rather than offensive, and they believed that the innuendo was neither vulgar nor degrading to women, and was not linked with sexual activity. They further stated that the reaction from all participants was entirely positive and they had not received any complaints or adverse comments in response to the campaign.
The Bournemouth Daily Echo stated that the ad was demurely executed, the presentation was respectful of women and the image used was acceptable. They said, whilst there was a slight edge to the wording used in that it could be considered as ‘laddish’, they did not believe that it could be taken as offensive. They also stated that they had not received any complaints about the ad.
The ASA noted that the ballet dancers featured in the ad were not depicted in a sexually suggestive or explicit pose, the ad was not sexual in tone and did not contain any form of nudity. Although the dancers’ faces were partially obscured and the image only featured the lower parts of their faces to just above their knees, we considered that the focus of the ad was on the balletic pose and the dance formation, rather than on a specific part of their bodies.
We considered that the pose held by the dancers were likely to be seen as graceful and typical of ballet poses, but noted that it could be interpreted by some readers as a visual innuendo of the phrase “Protect your assets”, in that that the dancers were protective of, or defensive about, their bodies, or specifically their chest area. Although we acknowledged that some might find the reference to women’s chests or breasts as ‘assets’ distasteful, we considered that the reference in the ad was not used in a salacious or lewd manner, but rather it was a mild innuendo. Because we considered that the ad did not portray the ballet dancers in a sexualised, degrading or indecent manner, and that any innuendo was light hearted, we concluded that the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.
We investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
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), but did not find it in breach.
No further action necessary.