A poster promoting an album by a rock band, seen in October 2011, showed an image of a woman leaning back with her eyes closed. She was shown wearing a skimpy halter-neck outfit which covered her nipples but left her stomach and the bottom of her breasts uncovered. Her right hand was placed by her crotch and she was holding a string with two silver balls attached, which dangled between her legs. The band's name appeared in the middle of the image and beneath it, large text stated "BALLS OUT".
Underneath, the ad showed an image of the four members of the band and text which stated "THE NEW ALBUM UNLEASHED FOR HALLOWEEN..."
Imkaan, a charity devoted to raising awareness and offering support to women from ethnic backgrounds who were victims of abuse and violence, and four members of the public challenged whether the ad was:
1. offensive, because they considered the image of the woman was demeaning and overtly sexual in its nature.
Imkaan and three of the members of the public also challenged whether the ad was:
2. unsuitable for public display where it might be seen by children.
1. & 2. Universal Island Records, a division of Universal Music Operations Ltd said that the poster depicted the album cover for the rock band, Steel Panther who were a pastiche of an 80s heavy metal band who took their inspiration from bands such as Whitesnake and Bon Jovi. The band's stage performance and persona were very tongue in cheek, nothing about them was serious and their concept was a send-up of the typical 80s band, although their music was new and original. They said the poster was designed to have a retro 80s look which was not done seriously and poked fun at the ridiculousness of the attitude to women, outfits and music in that era. The poster was meant to be ludicrously over the top and not meant to undermine women.
Universal Island Records said that most of the areas chosen to display the poster were popular with adults for nights out and as far as they were aware, not particularly close to any schools. However, as they were not aware of the new guidelines on outdoor advertising, no placements restrictions were considered when sites were chosen for the poster. They added that all the posters had now been taken down. However, they did not consider that the poster was inappropriate for outdoor advertising as it was supposed to be viewed in all its silliness and not as a serious take on women. They said that if they had felt the use of the image on the poster was done due to a lack of respect for women, they would have considered much more carefully if it was appropriate to use for an outdoor advertising campaign and would have suggested an alternative image to the band. However, they believed the picture of the band on the poster showed that it was not meant to be taken seriously.
Universal Island Records said that more care could have been taken in the siting of the posters but they did not intend to cause offence and endeavoured to take even greater care in the future to take into account whether children were likely to see the posters and whether they would be unsuitable.
1. & 2. Upheld
The ASA noted Universal Island Records' argument that the poster was not meant to cause offence or be seen as demeaning to women. However, we considered that the main image on the poster was overtly sexual. We noted that the pose of the woman showed her with her legs apart, her hand between her legs and her breasts partially exposed and considered that her facial expression was suggestive of an orgasm and sexual activity. In addition to this, we considered that the album title "Balls Out" was sexually suggestive particularly when viewed in the context of the poster, where the woman was seen dangling two silver balls between her legs in a way that we considered was suggestive of male genitalia.
We noted Universal Island Records' argument that the poster was meant to be viewed humorously and not to be taken seriously as it was meant to represent the over-the-top image of the band featured in the poster. However, we considered that most people would not view the poster in this way and even if they had viewed it in that context, the poster was overtly sexual when taken as a whole. Given its placement in a range of public locations, we concluded that it was likely to cause serious and widespread offence, was unsuitable to be seen by children and therefore was not appropriate for outdoor advertising.
The poster breached 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).
The poster must not appear again in its current form.