An outdoor poster ad for Meridian BP, a building materials supplier, seen in July and August 2019, featured an image of a woman in low-cut shorts, a shirt tied above the waist and exposed midriff, carrying a building tool across the back of her shoulder, and a tool belt around her hips, and was headed “Building Products”.
The complainant, who believed the image objectified women, challenged whether the ad was offensive.
Meridian BP did not believe that the model was dressed in a sexually explicit way. They believed it was outdated to believe that women could be sexualised based on what they wore, that women had the right to choose what to wear and that neither men nor women should police women’s bodies. They stated that any offence caused was down to the sensitivities of the individual viewing the ad. They believed that the model’s outfit was in line with current fashion and provided examples of similar outfits on fashion websites. Meridian BP maintained that the image was relevant to their ad because building and construction workers frequently wore shorts and vest tops, particularly in the summer and that women could be builders and dress in the same manner. They pointed out that they had used male models in previous campaigns but had not received any complaints. Meridian BP said that they had used the imagery for five years and that this was the only complaint they had received against it. They did not therefore believe that the ad caused widespread offence.
Billboard Media did not provide any additional comments.
The ASA noted that the ad appeared in an untargeted medium. Although we acknowledged that the woman in the ad carried a building tool and wore a tool belt, and that builders were likely to wear seasonally-appropriate clothing in warmer weather, we considered that the image of a woman with an exposed midriff was not directly relevant to the products being advertised. We also considered the styling of her outfit would not be recognised as typical or appropriate attire for those carrying out building work.
We accepted that the image was not sexually explicit, but considered her appearance was nonetheless sexually suggestive and considered that the image therefore objectified the woman by using her body to draw attention to the ad. We concluded that, by using a sexualised image of a woman which bore no relevance to the advertised product, the ad objectified women, and was likely to cause serious offence.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 4.1 (Harm and offence).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Meridian BP not to use ads that objectified women and that were therefore likely to cause serious offence.