Summary of Council decision:
Four issues were investigated, all of which were Upheld.
Four display ads and an in-app ad for Temu, an online marketplace:
a. The first display ad seen on a regional online newspaper on 19 June 2023, featured six images in a row. The first image was of a young girl wearing a bikini, the girl was shown looking at the camera, one hand on her hip and the other pushing her hair behind her ear. The second image was of a woman wearing a white halterneck dress, the image was cut so only her torso and arms were shown. The third image was of a silver metallic facial roller. The fourth image was of three balloon tying tools in pink, red and blue colours. The fifth image was a woman wearing a white crop top. Only the woman’s chest, arms and midriff were shown. The sixth image was of a grey jock strap.
b. The second display ad seen on a chess website on 18 June 2023, featured six images. The first image featured a woman wearing a burgundy one shoulder jumpsuit that was cut at one side showing part of the woman’s midriff, the top of her chest and her left arm. The image was cut just below the woman’s eyes, showing the bottom part of her face only. The second image was of padded cycling underwear. The third image was of three balloon tying tools in pink, red and blue. The fourth image was a woman wearing a grey tight fitting jumpsuit. The image was cut to show her face from the eyes down to the top part of her thighs only. The fifth image was of a grey jock strap. The sixth image was a pair of red boots.
c. The third display ad seen on a chess website on 17 June 2023, featured three of the images seen in ad (b); the woman wearing a burgundy jumpsuit, padded cycling underwear and three balloon tying tools in pink, red and blue.
d. The fourth display ad seen on a language translation website on 18 June 2023, featured eight images. Five that were also in ad (b); three balloon tying tools in pink, red and blue, padded cycling underwear, a woman wearing a burgundy jumpsuit, a pair of red boots and a woman wearing a grey jumpsuit. The sixth image was featured in ad (a) and was a woman wearing a white halterneck dress. The seventh image was of a woman wearing a tight fitting pink cat suit, the woman’s head was not shown. The eighth image was of a rubber pink foot massager.
e. The in-app ad seen within a puzzle app on the 18 June 2023, featured images of leopard print underwear with the back removed and a woman wearing a short black skirt and tights, only the woman’s legs were shown.
The ASA received five complaints.
1. Three complainants, who considered that the content of ads (a), (b), (c) and (d) were sexually graphic, objected that the ads were likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
2. One complainant, who believed the pose and clothing of the model in a bikini, sexualised someone who was a child, challenged whether ad (a) was irresponsible and offensive.
3. Two complainants, who believed ads (a), (b) and (c) sexually objectified women, challenged whether they were offensive and irresponsible.
4. Two complainants challenged whether ads (b), (c) and (e) were inappropriately targeted.
1. Whaleco UK Ltd t/a Temu said they were a global online platform, launched in the United Kingdom in 2023. Third-party sellers listed and sold a wide range of products on their marketplace. The product descriptions, including the images, displayed on the marketplace were provided by the third parties. Sellers were obliged to adhere to Temu’s marketplace policies which prohibited pornographic, obscene or harassing images.
Regarding the silver metallic facial roller, balloon tying tools, padded cycling underwear, jock strap, red boots and foot massager, Temu said the images shown were the products in their original state unaltered. They were found on the manufacturer’s website and other e-commerce platforms. They believed the images were not sexual or offensive.
Bylines Network, the regional newspaper publisher where ad (a) appeared, stated they had strict controls to prevent inappropriate advertising and proactively blocked sensitive content. However, as the ad was listed as a shopping site the content had been permitted. They stated that the advertiser was selling items they did not want displayed on their platforms and they had now blocked Temu from future advertising on their websites.
The chess website, where ads (b) and (c) appeared, explained that while they did not operate direct control over what companies advertise on their website, they did put in place strict guidelines for their third-party Ad Management Partner (AMP) to ensure that images with sexual content, gambling, alcohol or any other categories seen as inappropriate for the general public were prohibited. The AMP was then responsible for ensuring compliance with the guidelines. They believed Temu, as an e-commerce platform, was not considered a part of any banned category.
However, after reviewing the ads, they confirmed the images displayed did not align with their values and therefore, had contacted their AMP to prevent Temu ads being shown on their platform again. In addition, they had asked their AMP that similar content and images would not be shown on their website again.
2. Temu explained that the image of the child in the bikini in ad (a) was provided by the seller and violated Temu’s marketing policy. The image had been removed from their Google Ads account and would not be shown again.
3. Temu said that images of models without a face were not intended to sexually objectify the women. The pictures were there to show customers a clear representation of how the clothing was worn and helped them to select goods to purchase. They explained that a similar approach could be found on other e-commerce platforms.
They said the images contained no description or language that sexually objectified women. They had not used the women’s features as a way to draw attention to an unrelated product. The clothes themselves did not feature any offensive words or slogans. The images further had not focused on the model’s specific body parts and had not been presented in such a way as to feel voyeuristic. The models were all appropriately dressed and were not posed in a sexual way.
4. Temu said all the ads were served by Google Ads. Over one million product descriptions and images were uploaded to their Google Ads account, labelled by product category, price range and sales volume. Temu chose the product categories to be promoted and Google Ads used their algorithm to pick products from that category and serve them. If Temu did not pick an ad category, Google Ads would select the most appropriate one from all product categories. Temu said they did not get to decide the specific products advertised, the arrangement or combination of products or the websites/apps that the ads were displayed on.
The disputed images were a silver metallic facial roller, which appeared in ad (a), balloon ties, that appeared in ads (a), (b), (c) and (d), a jockstrap, found in ads (a) and (b), cycling underwear, that appeared in ads (b), (c) and (d) and a foot massager, found in ad (d) only. All the objects in the ads were therefore either underwear or household products. However, no accompanying text, explanation or context was given about the items. Therefore, the nature of the products and their original intended use, were not easily identifiable.
Both the facial roller and balloon ties were phallic shaped and in the absence of any explanation could have been interpreted as sexual in nature. The foot massager, which was plastic and tapered to a round end, could also have been understood in the same way.
Regarding the underwear, the jockstrap was augmented in the crotch, emphasising the outline of genitalia. The cycling underwear, which had pink padding at the back, was not immediately clear it was for cycling and appeared as underwear with the bottom cut out. Both items, especially juxtaposed with the other products, appeared to be sexual in nature, rather than functional underwear.
The disputed images in ads (a), (b), (c) and (d) all appeared alongside images of adult women wearing tight fitting clothing that accentuated their body shape. While the portrayals of the women in isolation were not necessarily sexual, the styling of the images, including the revealing nature of the clothing, meant that their inclusion alongside products that appeared to be sexual in nature, added to the impression that the items and underwear were meant for an adult purpose, rather than functional objects.
Ad (a) appeared on a regional online newspaper, ads (b) and (c) were seen on a chess website and ad (d) was found on a translation website. They were websites for general use and did not contain adult themed products or services of a sexual nature.
The ASA noted Temu’s explanation that the items had not been chosen directly by them but picked by their ad server’s algorithm based on very broad product categories. However, while we acknowledged that Temu had stated there had been no intent to curate the ads in a sexual way, we assessed how they were likely to be interpreted by readers, regardless of the mechanics behind them.
We considered that ads (a), (b), (c) and (d) taken in their entirety with the accompanying images of the models, and with no explanation or labelling, contained products that were likely to be seen as sexual in nature. The ads appeared in general media where adult themed or sexual products were unlikely to be anticipated. On that basis the ads were likely to cause widespread offence.
On that point, ads (a), (b), (c) and (d) breached CAP code (Edition 12) rule 4.1 (Harm and offence).
We considered that the young model in ad (b) appeared to be a girl of eight to eleven years of age.
The girl wore a two piece bikini. The image was cut off just beneath the bikini bottoms. The girl was posed with one hand on her hip and the other appearing to push her hair behind her ears. The pose was quite adult for a girl of her age and she appeared alongside two other images also in the ad that featured mature women modelling clothing intended for adults.
We noted further the facial roller, balloon ties and jockstrap that were also displayed in the same ad. The lack of explanation and labelling meant that both the facial roller and balloon ties appeared to be items sexual in nature. Further to that the jockstrap, with its accentuated crotch, gave the impression of being sexual, rather than for utility. The collection of items portrayed together added to the impression that the ad was of a sexual nature and by association, therefore, the girl was sexualised.
We concluded that the ad had the effect of portraying a child in a sexual way and was irresponsible.
On that point, ad (b) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 (Social Responsibility) and 4.8 (Harm and offence).
Ad (a) showed a woman wearing a tight-fitting white dress, the image was cut so only her torso and arms were shown. A second image featured a woman wearing a white crop top and only her chest, arms and midriff were shown. The images appeared alongside a jockstrap and items such as a facial massager and balloon ties, which were phallic in shape and appeared sexual in nature. Further to that the jockstrap, with its accentuated crotch, gave the impression of being sexual, rather than for utility.
Focusing on a person’s body while obscuring or removing their face was likely to be seen as objectifying. As the disembodied images of the women wearing tight and revealing clothing appeared alongside items that were likely to be understood as sexual, we considered the women were presented as stereotypical sexual objects.
Ads (b) and (c) showed a woman wearing a one shoulder jumpsuit that was cut at one side exposing part of her midriff, the top of her chest and her left arm. A second image in ad (b) was of a woman wearing a tight fitting jumpsuit. We noted that the first image included the woman’s face from her nose downwards and the second image included her face from her eyes downwards. Therefore, unlike the models in ad (a), the women were represented more fully, rather than as reduced body parts. However, we again noted the context of the ads overall, with the accompanying images of a jockstrap in ad (b) and cycling underwear and the balloon tie in ads (b) and (c). We understood that the cycling underwear, in the absence of explanatory text or explanation, would be interpreted as underwear but not necessarily for cycling and noted the padded section appeared that there was a hole in the bottom and could have been seen as sexual. Further to that, the phallic shaped balloon tie and the jockstrap with the augmented crotch would have been seen as sexual in nature. The overall impression of the ads was that they featured sexual imagery of which the women in tight fitting, partially revealing clothing played a part. The women in ads (b) and (c) were therefore presented as stereotypical sexual objects.
On that point, ads (a), (b) and (c) breached CAP code (Edition 12) rules 4.1 and 4.9 (Harm and offence).
We considered that ads (b) and (c) featured content that sexually objectified women and ad (b) featured an image of a person under 18 years of age in a sexual way. Therefore they were unsuitable to be seen by audiences of any age, regardless of whether the advertiser had taken steps to target them towards audiences over 18.
Ad (e) showed an image of backless leopard print underwear and we considered that the ad would be interpreted as promoting underwear of an adult nature. We therefore expected Temu to have targeted the ad responsibly including limiting the audience to users aged 18 years and over. That should have been achieved using age verification measures including interest-based targeting factors that described an adult audience and excluded a child audience.
The puzzle app where ad (e) was served, was rated as “EVERYONE” in the Google Play App Store – meaning it was generally considered suitable for all age groups. Concerning ads (b) and (c) they appeared on a website for playing chess. We understood that chess had a wide appeal and so those under 18 would make up a significant number of those on the site.
We understood that ads for Temu would not be served to those who were explicitly known to their ad server as under 18. However, if the user had an undeclared age they could be served any Temu ad and this included users of both the puzzle app and the chess website. Because ads (b) and (c) included objectifying material and we had not seen evidence to demonstrate that Temu had taken appropriate action to minimise the risk of under-18s being served for all the ads, for instance by using interest-based targeting factors, we concluded that they had not been responsibly targeted.
On that point, ads (b), (c) and (e) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 (Social Responsibility).
The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told Whaleco UK Ltd t/a Temu to ensure that future ads were prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society and that they did not cause serious or widespread offence by presenting products in a sexual way in general media or by presenting individuals as stereotypical sexual objects. In addition, persons who were or appeared to be under 18 years of age in ads must not be portrayed in a sexual way and ads must be responsibly targeted.