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ASA ruling on Missguided Ltd – the fine line between the mildly sexual and the objectification of women

Published on 07 August 2020

Were poster ads released by clothing company Missguided on public transport overly sexualised, inappropriate or likely to cause serious offence?

The key takeaway

The ASA is likely to order the removal of any ads which focus on explicit nudity, are overly sexualised or objectify women.

The ads

In November 2019, Missguided released two poster ads:

  • Ad (a): the first (on the London underground) featured a model wearing a pink wrap mini-dress, showing the model’s legs and cleavage
  • Ad (b): the second (at a train station) featured the same model leaning against a side table wearing an unbuttoned jacket with nothing underneath, seer tights and high heels.
The complaint

The ads were challenged by complainants, who believed the images objectified women and were overly sexualised. It was argued that Ads (a) and (b) were offensive and that ad (a) was inappropriate for display where it could be seen by children.

The response

Missguided Ltd strongly contested that the posters did not overly sexualise and objectify women. It stated that the images were in keeping with industry practice and that similar ads were commonplace in the fast-fashion industry. It also said that it had not received any direct complaints and that it had followed a stringent approval process, which included approval from the CAP Copy
Advice team and external media agencies.

Missguided also disputed whether the image in the first ad was inappropriate for display where it could be seen by children, because it was evident that the target audience was not children.

The decision

Ad (a)
The ASA considered the ads separately and ruled that, although some might find the ad distasteful, the imagery in ad (a) was no more than mildly sexual and featured no explicit nudity. In addition, the focus on the ad was on the model and the dress, as opposed to a specific part of her body. Accordingly, the ad was also not inappropriate for children and this particular ad did not breach the CAP Code.

Ad (b)
However, the ASA considered that the model in the second ad would be seen as “being in a state of undress” and that the focus was not on the clothing being advertised, but rather on her chest area and lower abdomen. They also considered that the image contained a sexually suggestive pose which objectified women. Consequently, the ASA concluded that the second ad was likely to cause serious offence and breached CAP Code Rule 4.1 (Harm and offence).

Why is this important?

The ruling is yet another example that the ASA will not tolerate the use of overly sexualised models in fashion ads. It is extremely important that retailers ensure that their ads are not considered overtly sexual. Great care should be taken to ensure that the tone of the ad, in terms of pose and nudity, is not inappropriate. It would also be sensible to ensure that the focus of the imagery is not on explicit nudity or on anything that would be seen to be objectifying women.

Practical tips

Getting advice on your ads in advance from the CAP Copy Advice Team doesn’t get you off the hook!

You need to stand back and always think about the impact of your ad, in particular in light of the ASA’s strong stance against objectifying women.