A Video on Demand (VOD) ad for Missguided, a women's clothing retailer, seen on ITV Hub during Love Island on 14 June 2019 opened with a close-up of a woman’s mouth as she held a strawberry between her lips. The ad then showed young women in swimwear on a boat, and on-screen text stated “If you plan on wearing clothes this summer … we’ve got you covered … kind of”. The ad showed young women on a beach with their legs apart in seductive poses, a woman running her hand up her inner thigh, a group of women in thong bikinis and another woman posing in a bikini with her legs astride on a motorcycle. On-screen text at the end of the ad stated “SCORE 25% OFF WITH CODE BABE25”.
The complainant, who believed the ad was overly sexualised and objectified women, challenged whether the ad was offensive and irresponsible.
Missguided Ltd said that the ad’s aim was to promote several items within their summer collection which included swimwear, clothing and accessories. It was aimed at those under 30 years of age and they had tried to promote a particular lifestyle rather than just clothing. They said the models were of different sizes and backgrounds and that the ad focused not only on the clothes they wore but also their faces, with a number of the camera angles shot from below to show empowering, confident young women. They said the display of skin was relevant, necessary and unavoidable given that the ad was promoting the summer wear collection, which included bikinis. They said the ad was not overly different to images one might see on a beach during summer months or that were used in any ad for a bikini. Missguided said imagery that may be construed as sexual, including the image of the strawberry between lips, were merely motifs used to create the lifestyle brand.
Referring to the model who was running her hands up her inner thigh, they pointed out that the model was wearing full length trousers and used a hand gesture to focus the eye of the viewer on the clothing. The shot of the models in thong bikinis was merely to show the bikini from behind. Missguided said the audience was intended to be viewers of Love Island, which aimed to draw crowds through a show where contestants both male and female were dressed in swimwear during the day and prevailing standards allowed for women to be body confident whilst also remaining tasteful and in keeping with the behaviours of the target audience. They said the ad was shown on VOD around Love Island and was not dissimilar from the opening titles and content of the programme itself. ITV said the ad depicted similar values, swimwear and scenes as Love Island and that they were surprised to learn that a viewer of the programme had considered the content of the ad offensive. They said the ad had an ex-kids restriction and it had been approved for VOD only. They said it was a typical swim/beachwear creative that had a contextual relevance with the Love Island programme which was not a programme aimed at an audience below the age of 16.
Clearcast said that the ad should be given an ex-kids scheduling restriction to keep it away from young children because of its sexual tone. However, they said that because the ad was promoting a swimwear range, the body of the models would always be exposed and while some of the poses did have a sexual tone, they did not consider them to be overly sexualised. They said the ad was aimed at women to whom the imagery and clothing would appeal, rather than that its intention or portrayal was to objectify women and that the scheduling within Love Island was appropriate because of the shared themes and imagery.
The ASA acknowledged that the ad promoted summer wear and in particular swimwear and that it would be expected to contain images of women in that clothing. We noted that various styles of clothing and swimwear were depicted, some of which covered most of the women’s bodies and others which were much more revealing.
The ad comprised numerous quick-cut scenes each lasting only a second or two and we considered some scenes were in keeping with typical ads for such products. However, others went further and were highly sexualised, including some that did not show any of the clothing that was being advertised or include the model’s face, and all in the context of the on-screen statement “If you plan on wearing clothes this summer … we’ve got you covered … kind of”, and the repeated references to the promotional code “BABE25”. For example, the ad began with a close-up of the lower half of a woman’s face as she ran a strawberry over her lips before cutting immediately to a woman wearing a high-cut one-piece swimsuit who lay on her side as she caressed her side. A later scene showed a woman wearing long trousers as she ran her hand up the inside of her thigh. Another scene showed a woman in a bikini sitting in the sea with her legs apart as she ran both hands down her legs. The scene of the four women in thong bikinis leaning against a wall exposed a lot of the buttocks and hips of three of the women. The very next scene showed another woman in a similar thong bikini sitting astride a motorbike and leaning back with one arm bent above her head. While we acknowledged that the heads and faces of the women were often shown, in many of the scenes the women looked seductively at the camera with their lips parted and their poses were sexually suggestive – in particular in the scene of the model sprawled out over the bike which presented her as merely a decoration to the bike. We did not therefore agree that the women in those scenes were presented as empowered, confident young women. We considered that the cumulative effect of the scenes meant that overall, the products had been presented in an overly-sexualised way that invited viewers to view the women as sexual objects.
The ad appeared during the programme Love Island, and we acknowledged that there were similarities between the content of the ad and the programme, which was a reality dating show in which male and female contestants were featured often wearing swimwear or other revealing clothing and sometimes engaging in degrees of sexual behaviour. However, we considered that some viewers who enjoyed the programme would nevertheless be seriously offended by advertising that presented women as sexual objects. Because the ad objectified women, we concluded that it was irresponsible and likely to cause serious offence.
The ad breached CAP Code rules 1.3 (Responsible advertising) and 4.1 (Harm and offence).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Missguided Ltd not to use advertising that objectified women and which was likely to cause serious offence.