Two ads for Lewis Oliver Estates, an estate agent, seen in April and June 2018:
a. A poster ad featured an image of a topless man wearing fitted boxer shorts. The image was cropped so that only the model's torso and thighs were visible. Text stated "WOW! WHAT A PACKAGE". A roundel containing the text "Fully managed letting service" was placed over the model's crotch.
b. A leaflet featured the same image and text as ad (a).
Two complainants, who believed that the image was irrelevant to the service being advertised and objectified the man, objected that the ad was offensive.
Lewis Oliver Estates Ltd said that they did not mean to offend anyone and the ads were intended as light-hearted fun. A similar ad had also been used on a property lettings website. They said that they had not received any complaints directly, and no one who had printed or distributed the ads had raised any objections. They felt that their billboard was mild and said that many companies had used bikini models. Lewis Oliver said that they would be happy to change the billboard in 12 weeks’ time when it was due for renewal.
The ASA noted that the ad was for an estate agent, and the image of a topless man bore no relation to the product being advertised. While the pose was only mildly suggestive in nature, we noted that the man’s head was cropped out of the picture, which invited viewers to focus on his body. We considered that the phrase “WOW! WHAT A PACKAGE”, in combination with the service information placed over the model’s crotch, was a clear reference to male genitalia. Taking the image, strapline and placement of the roundel into account, we considered that the ad was likely to have the effect of objectifying the man by using his physical features to draw attention to an unrelated product. We concluded that the ad was likely to cause serious offence to some people.
The ad breached CAP Code 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 ads must not appear again in the forms complained about. We told Lewis Oliver Estates Ltd not to portray men in a manner that objectified them and was likely to cause serious or widespread offence.