Advertising watchdogs have ruled that the depiction of a man as a sex object was harmless fun, but banned the similar treatment of a woman.
The apparent contradiction arose from two advertisements that drew complaints they were sexist, degrading and treated the main characters as ‘sex objects’.
One – a TV commercial for the Paco Rabanne fragrance – featured a young Adonis suggestively stripping down for a bath while lusting women watched.
The other – a poster for Tunnock’s teacakes – showed a woman tennis player with a teacake by her thigh in place of a ball and with her skirt raised.
The Paco Rabanne advert drew 120 complaints, while just one complaint was made about Tunnock’s campaign. However, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled that only the ad featuring the woman should be banned.
The industry watchdog decided the image and inference were ‘socially irresponsible’ and likely to cause offence by ‘objectifying women’. By contrast, the commercial featuring the young man has been cleared on the basis it was ‘light-hearted’ and ‘humorous’.
Last year the ASA announced new rules to outlaw gender stereotyping and suggested it would take a tougher line on images that appeared to sexualise women.
Complainants argued that the Paco Rabanne ad was sexist, offensive and objectified the man because he was seen as the subject of voyeurism.
However, in a ruling published today, the ASA says: ‘We considered the ad showed the male character’s attractiveness in a light-hearted, humorous way, rather than in a degrading or humiliating manner.’ It ruled: ‘The ad did not objectify the male character and we concluded it was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.’
The Tunnock’s poster included text that read: ‘Where do you keep yours?’ and added ‘Serve up a treat’.
The ASA said: ‘We noted the ad depicted a woman lifting her tennis skirt while holding a tea cake beside her hip, in place of where a tennis ball would usually be held, with her bare thigh exposed and her underwear clearly visible. While we acknowledged the ad was placed opposite an arena hosting a tennis match, we considered it nevertheless bore no relevance to the advertised product.
‘We considered the phrase “serve up a treat” would be understood to be a double entendre, implying the woman featured in the ad was the “treat” and considered this was likely to be viewed as demeaning towards women.
‘We considered that although the image was only mildly sexual in nature when combined with the phrase “serve up a treat” it had the effect of objectifying women by using a woman’s physical features to draw attention to the ad.’
It added: ‘In light of those factors, we concluded that the ad was likely to cause serious offence to some consumers and was socially irresponsible.’
The ASA has put the Scottish food manufacturer on notice to be more careful in future.
It said: ‘We told Thomas Tunnock to ensure their advertising was socially responsible and did not cause serious offence by objectifying women.’
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