Too sexy? Cheeky ad frowned upon by Advertising Standards Board

Last month, the Advertising Standards Board (‘the Board’) faced complaints about a couple of cheeky advertisements depicting men in their budgy smugglers.

The first ad was promoting Bundaberg Rum and featured a close-up of a man in Speedos with the headline ‘No one does Prime Ministers like us and no one does Rum like us’, a not-so subtle reference to former Prime Minister Tony Abbott. The second ad was part of a series of large banners promoting the Moran Art Prizes where one of the banners featured a man in Speedos with the words ‘pussy magnet’ written across the back.

While these ads were clearly intended to be a bit of fun, and although the Tony Abbot reference was acceptable, the Board considered that the Moran Prize ad was a blatant sexual reference not suitable for a broad audience. This amounted to language which was “inappropriate in the circumstances” and therefore in breach of Section 2.5 of the AANA Code. This was the crucial factor that distinguished this from the Board’s decision to dismiss the complaint about the Bundaberg Rum ad which it found “did treat the issue of sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience” and thus did not breach the Code.

Sex, sexuality and nudity is an area that attracts many complaints from consumers and it is beneficial to be aware of these instances as they provide insight into issues that may arise in your agency’s campaigns. For instance, in 2016, the most complained about advertisement came from Ultra Tune Australia which attracted 418 complaints for its ad featuring two women wearing tight rubber all-in-one body suits with the text “We’re into rubber.” The Board ultimately dismissed complaints that the advertisement was vilifying for women, breaching Section 2.1 of the AANA Code. The Board held that while the women’s clothing and physical appearance may have been considered sexy to some viewers, this was not of itself vilifying or discriminatory towards women.

In contrast to this is another Ultra Tune ad which featured two women in provocative clothing accidentally driving their car onto train-tracks. While the women’s attire and sexualised appearance received many complaints, similar to the “We’re into rubber” ad, this was not what was found to have breached the Code. Rather, the Board took umbrage with the depiction of the women as unintelligent and in stereotypically helpless situations, and found the ad to have breached Section 2.1 of the AANA Code for being vilifying or discriminatory towards women on this basis.

It is important to note that while many consumers may not like to see ‘bad’ or ‘offensive’ behaviour in advertising, action can only be taken where there has been a genuine breach of the AANA Code of Ethics.

What to do if you receive an advertising complaint?

In the event that you receive a complaint, it is important that you respond to explain why the advertisement was not in breach, and how it complies with the AANA Code of Ethics. If you have any questions, contact us.