Three digital outdoor ads, for women's underwear, featured moving images of the model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in a bedroom. Each ad began with a close-up image of a flower and on-screen text which stated "A NEW COLLECTION DESIGNED BY Rosie; Only at YOUR M&S" and then showed her modelling underwear. At the end of each ad was a black screen with text stating "Rosie for Autograph Only at YOUR M&S":
a. The first ad showed her in a green bra and knickers. She was looking behind the camera with her body facing left. She rotated her body to the front, dropped her shoulders back, looked down and then back up.
b. The second ad showed her wearing a purple bra and knickers. She was looking behind the camera with her body facing left. She rotated her body to the front, ran her hand under her hair and put her hands on the back of her hips.
c. The third ad showed her wearing a flowered pattern bra and knickers. She began in profile looking left, then rotated to the front and continued turning to show her back and buttocks.
Seven complainants, who believed the ads were overtly sexual, explicit, degrading to women and reinforced sexual stereotypes of women, challenged whether the ads were offensive and unsuitable for public display where they could be seen by children.
Marks and Spencer Plc (M&S) said the ads in question were part of the launch campaign for a very significant new range of Lingerie: the Rosie for Autograph collection. They said the range was designed in collaboration with Rosie Huntington-Whitely, who had been the face of the Autograph range since August 2011 and since when she had featured in Autograph clothing and lingerie ads and campaigns. All of those had been shot in the same filmic, sophisticated, soft style and had helped to create a brand identity for the Autograph range which resonated with their target customer and had been very successful in promoting that range and reflecting its brand values.
M&S said the brand positioning was a range designed by a woman for women, as opposed to being designed for the titillation of men. They said consumer engagement with Rosie was key which meant that she looked into the camera lens during the ads and the digital outdoor ads held the outfits in frame for a couple of seconds to allow readers time to engage with them. They said it has been stressed since brief stage that the purpose of the campaign was not to show Rosie as being overtly sexy but to show the product off in the best light. They said eye contact was the way in which the team had tried to achieve this in short spots, as opposed to overtly sexual imagery or other inappropriate means.
M&S said additionally the brand values were that the range should stand for making women feel attractive and sensual from the confidence of wearing elegant and sophisticated lingerie. They refuted any allegation that the range or supporting campaign was degrading to women or reinforced sexual stereotypes of women. They said such allegations were not supported by the evidence they had of the success of this campaign amongst their target female customers.
M&S said they chose to feature lingerie ads particularly on Underground sites as the location linked strongly with their core lingerie audience (ABC1 women 25+). They provided a full list of the London locations at which they had run digital escalator panels and said those stations were selected as they were key central London locations with high station footfall, particularly of their core lingerie customer. They pointed out that seven complaints was a very small number in light of the extremely large number of people who would have seen the ads.
M&S said their agency submitted the ad creative to CBS Outdoor well in advance of the campaign start date and CBS fully approved the copy before it went live. M&S said their media agency always applied location sensitivity to M&S's ad placements and were particularly careful when it came to lingerie, especially avoiding schools and ethnic community areas, etc. where they may be considered inappropriate or may be likely to cause offence.
M&S said the success of the Rosie for Autograph range and its marketing campaign confirmed that the female target audience had appreciated the style and tone of the advertising and other brand messaging. They did not condone the use of marketing that was overtly sexual, explicit, degrading to women or reinforced sexual stereotypes of women, who were after all their core customers, and neither did they believe the ads or their placement were unsuitable for public display where they could be seen by children.
The ASA noted the complainants' concerns about the ads. However, we also considered that it was acceptable for advertisers of lingerie to show their products modelled in ads, provided they did so responsibly. We also considered that, because the ads were for lingerie, consumers were less likely to regard the partial nudity shown as gratuitous.
In relation to ads (a) and (b) we noted that Rosie Huntington-Whitely was wearing underwear and standing in a bedroom, however, she appeared to be alone and we considered that her changes in pose were likely to be seen as simply modelling the garments. We therefore did not consider that there was anything in these ads that implied sexual activity, nor did her pose or behaviour draw attention to particular parts of her body in a way that was sexually suggestive.
We considered that the presentation of ad (c) was similar to (a) and (b), however, we noted that Rosie Huntington-Whitely rotated all the way round to show her buttocks. Although we considered that pose was marginally more suggestive, we considered that it was unlikely to be regarded by most members of the public as anything more than mildly sexual in nature.
Although we considered that some members of the public would find the nudity in the ads distasteful, we did not consider that the ads were likely to cause serious or widespread offence, or that they were unsuitable for public display where they could be seen by children. We noted that M&S had applied a placement restriction such that the ads would not appear near schools and considered this was more than sufficient.
We investigated the ads under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society.
(Social responsibility) and
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 them in breach.
No action necessary.