Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
A website for the clothing brand Sisters & Seekers, www.sistersandseekers.com, seen on 31 May 2023. A product page for the “Gear Pullover” featured a photo of a female model sitting on a couch, wearing the pullover while lighting a cigarette. An open can of lager was on the table in front of her.
1. The complainant, who believed the ad glamorised smoking, challenged whether the ad was harmful and irresponsible.
2. The ASA challenged whether the ad breached the Code because it featured someone who was, or seemed to be, under 25.
1. Sisters & Seekers Ltd said that while the ad contained an image of a model lighting a cigarette, along with a visibly open can of lager, they thought the ad had been prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and society, and had complied with the CAP Code. They also said they did not believe that the ad glamorised smoking or drinking alcohol.
The ad had been part of a wider campaign which had been centred around storytelling, intended to convey the feeling of someone spending a weekend in their hometown with nothing to do. Sisters & Seekers said that the campaign’s aim had been to depict a creative portrayal of a working-class persona, and experience, informed by the experiences of members of their own creative team. The cigarette and alcohol had been props in support of that narrative, meant to invoke the nostalgia associated with old family photographs, rather than to be the focus of the image. The model had been depicted smoking because it was more commonplace and socially acceptable to smoke in the past. They believed the imagery and setting of the ad, that of an old static caravan, helped reinforce that sense of nostalgia, and said that the intention had been to portray someone from that generation trying a cigarette for the first time.
Sisters & Seekers said that despite their belief that the ad had not glamorised smoking they had removed it from their website, to ensure viewers of the ad were not confused or distressed by it, regardless of the intention behind the image.
2. Sisters & Seekers said that while the can featured in the ad was likely to be identified as lager, they thought it had not played a significant role in the ad and had merely been a prop to signify that the location was a home environment. They highlighted that the model had not been depicted drinking in the ad. They also believed viewers of the ad would consider that the lager belonged to the male model who was partially visible at the edge of the image, because the can was closer to his side of the table, and because they thought that lager was traditionally a male drink.
The CAP Code stated that marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society.The ad depicted a young woman sitting on a couch, lighting a cigarette, with an open can of lager on the table in front of her. The lighter was ignited, with the flame visible as she lit her cigarette. The ASA considered that consumers viewing the image would immediately be drawn to the fact that the model was in the process of lighting the cigarette and this was reinforced by the flame of her lighter, which caught the eye.
While the image had been part of a series of photos in a campaign for the clothing line the “Gear Pullover”, we did not consider that the wider context of the campaign, or the intention to tell a story and invoke nostalgia through the image, would have been immediately apparent to someone viewing the ad.
We considered that the image was heavily stylised, and had portrayed the model in a fashionable and attractive light. By linking such an image to the act of smoking, we considered the ad had the inherent effect of presenting smoking in an appealing manner and, as such, irresponsibly glamorised it. While we welcomed Sisters & Seekers’ willingness to remove the image from their website, we concluded that the ad was irresponsible, and therefore breached the Code.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.3 (Social Responsibility).
The CAP Code stated that people shown drinking alcohol or playing a significant role in a marketing communication for alcohol must neither be, nor seem to be, under 25 years of age. While we acknowledged that the ad did not relate to the sale of an alcoholic product, the Code stated that the rule also applied to marketing communications which featured or referred to alcoholic drinks.
We considered that the model was youthful in appearance, and that was accentuated by the casual style of loungewear she was wearing, as well as the way in which she had been styled with minimal make-up. We acknowledged Sisters & Seekers’ comments that they believed the can of lager would be assumed by viewers of the image to belong to the male model, who was partially in shot to the right of the image. However, we did not consider that the placement of the lager, on a small, shared table, necessarily suggested it was his drink. Nor did we consider that he was the focal point of the image, or that he would immediately be seen by viewers, because only his legs and hands were visible, and were at the edge of the shot. We therefore considered it was likely that viewers would assume, upon first seeing the image, that the lager belonged to the female model, whether she was depicted drinking from the can or not. We also considered that while the can of lager was not the focal point of the ad, it was a notable aspect, placed prominently in the foreground of the image, and added to the overall tone and visual impact of the ad.
Because the ad featured a model who appeared to be under the age of 25 in a situation in which alcohol played a significant role in the setting and styling of the image, we concluded that the ad breached the Code.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 18.16 (Alcohol).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained about. We told Sisters & Seekers Ltd to ensure that their future marketing communications were socially responsible and did not glamorise smoking. We also told them to ensure any future ads which included alcohol did not feature people who were or appeared to be under 25 years of age.