A flyer for ScrewCaps UK, a manufacturer of fastener cover caps, was seen on 15 August 2017. The image featured a naked woman photographed from the back, with the shot slightly angled from below, wearing ski boots, gloves and skis, and carrying ski poles. Red text stating “COVER UP” partially obscured her bottom.
The complainant, who received the flyer with an order which had been made, challenged whether the ad was offensive and degrading to women.
Pro-Dec Products Ltd t/a ScrewCaps UK said they made a niche product which, whilst useful and practical, was not generally seen as aspirational or covetable. Therefore, to make their ‘unsexy’ product more noticeable, and in keeping with the product’s use in covering other elements, the concept behind their ad was to refer to covering up other things that would not be normally seen, which they acknowledged might include things which some might find in poor taste. They considered the ad was sensitive and might be seen as sexist, but they had ensured that any part of the model which should not be seen was covered by the “Cover Up!” stamp. They considered that the image did not go beyond what might be seen on any family-friendly beach. They believed that what might either titillate or offend was not what could and could not be seen.
They said that in the nine years they had been trading in the UK, they had distributed in excess of 20,000 such brochures, using a variety of models in different circumstances around the same theme of ‘covering up’. They had received 14 complaints directly, in response to the brochures they had produced. They added that the ad in question had been received by 7,000 people and they estimated, due to the ‘multiplier effect’, that 16,000 people would have seen the ad. They had ensured that any customers who had complained directly to them would not receive any further brochures.
They stated that they operated a business-to-business model (B2B), although they acknowledged that, due to the nature of the internet, some potential consumer-users had found their website and contacted them about the caps.
They did not believe that the ad would cause serious or widespread offence.
Although the ASA acknowledged that the use of a naked person was intended to create a visual pun linked to the concept of covering up and that some readers might appreciate that the use of such an image was intended to be comical in tone, we considered that the image of a naked woman in ski boots and carrying ski poles bore no relevance to the product being advertised, and that a link between the image of a naked woman on a ski slope and the product – a cover cap – was not one that people would normally make.
Although a slogan appeared over her bottom, we considered it would be clear to people that the woman was fully nude, bar her ski boots and gloves. We noted she had her back slightly arched to emphasize her bottom, and her breast was slightly visible from the side. We considered that her nudity was further highlighted as it appeared in the context of a ski scene, where people would ordinarily be warmly dressed. We therefore considered the female nudity was gratuitous and the pose and styling was provocative. On that basis, we considered the image could be seen to be sexually suggestive and degrading to women.
We acknowledged that ScrewCaps UK operated a business-to-business model and that this was generally the context in which their advertising would be seen. Although we considered it was therefore unlikely that children would see the ad, we considered that the image still had the potential to be seen by many people who were likely to find it offensive.
Because of the nudity and styling, as well as the woman’s pose, we concluded the image was degrading to women and likely to cause serious offence.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) 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 ad must not appear again in the form complained of. We told ScrewCaps UK not to use similarly sexually suggestive images in their advertising in future.