ASA – lets do something about this…

// 5 October 2008

You can’t have failed to notice that the Advertising Standards Agency (in the UK) has absolutely no conception of gender issues at all. In fact it really, really, really doesn’t get why women get so angry at both advertising and their incredibly denial-ist responses. So here’s my plan…. lets name and shame them. Type out the text of their responses here and lets see if we can make them take notice – after all they get away with it because we complain as individuals and we get responses as individuals and we get annoyed as individuals. So lets band together and demand that the ASA gets some feminist based gender awareness training and gets a clue.

To kick off the fun and games here’s a response to a complaint about the Orangina Advert that we covered here (yes the one with the pole dancing animals and phallicly exploding bottles of soft drink).

Thank you for contacting the ASA with your complaint about the above ad.

We received a number of complaints about their ad and they were referred to the independent ASA Council for assessment. I should say right at the start that the Council did not think that there were sufficient grounds for us to intervene.

There were a number of aspects of complaint that Council [sic] were asked to consider. All the complainants objected that the ad was offensive as they felt that it was overtly sexual and explicit. A number commented that it was entirely irrelevant to the product and a few were concerned about the effect it could have on children and young people, particularly as it was on during the summer holidays and was advertising a drink that was likely to be popular with children. 14 complainants felt it was inappropriate to sexualise animals and was akin to bestiality and 13 thought it demeaned and objectified women and implied that dancing provocatively for a man’s pleasure was acceptable.

Council [sic] acknowledged that the ad had sexual content and Clearcast (the organisation that clears ad prior to broadcast) had applied a post-9pm scheduling restriction. They recognised that some adults might find the content distasteful.

Council [sic] appreciated that some viewers might have personal objections to animation involving animals being given a sexual theme, but it was unlikely that the average viewer would interpret the fantasy cartoon characters as condoning bestiality or other sexual fetishes. It was also unlikely that the ad would be generally viewed as portraying or condoning degrading stereotypes of women. Whilst the theme of the ad may have appeared to have little relevance to the product, this did not constitute a breach of the TV Code and alienating some viewers was a risk that the advertiser had chosen to take.

So there you have it – apparently so long as it doesn’t promote sexual fetishes (anyone else having Section 28 flashbacks?) then it’s OK. So now we know.

Comments From You

Saranga // Posted 5 October 2008 at 5:01 pm

“It was also unlikely that the ad would be generally viewed as portraying or condoning degrading stereotypes of women”

*headdesk* Women objectifed, women portrayed as sexualised objects in an entirely gratuitous way that has no bearign on the product whatsoever.

No. Nothing to do with degrading stereotypes at all.


Audrey // Posted 5 October 2008 at 5:22 pm

OMG, do not even get me started on this. I personally wrote back to the woman who sent me this reply, saying that they had contradicted and dismissed the very basis of my complaint: ie the degradation of women. They have NO conception of gender equality.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 5 October 2008 at 6:49 pm

so… they listed everything wrong with it in a way that makes it sound as bad as it is… then they decide its not a problem because they dnt think everyone will complain? im sorry but watching an animals bikini top get ripped off has the same effects as seeing it happen to a human to me. i dont like clothes ripping off like that! reminds me of bad stuff!

lucy // Posted 5 October 2008 at 8:46 pm

Thanks for posting this.

I don’t watch television or read magazines, so rarely get to see this kind of thing, and really appreciate you covering it, along with the correct course of action, on here.

Cara // Posted 5 October 2008 at 10:41 pm

So…the response to the Pot Noodle ad that has been discussed here several times:

“Thank you for contacting the ASA . I am sorry that this ad has caused you offence.

I should explain that we don’t make ads or approve them before they’re transmitted. It’s the broadcasters’ responsibility to make sure the advertising they carry complies with our codes. We can act if an ad is likely to provoke widespread or serious offence or to pose a realistic risk of harm or to mislead viewers about goods and services.

I should say right at the start that the ASA Council has considered your complaint but didn’t think there were sufficient grounds for us to intervene. Let me explain.

The Council sympathised that although some may have found the lyrics distasteful, the ad was likely to be seen by most viewers as light-hearted and was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence or result in women being seen in a negative way.

Our Code says that ads should contain nothing that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. The ASA bases its judgements on the content of the ad and the medium, audience, product type and prevailing standards in society.

Complaints about offence often require difficult judgements but we don’t intervene where advertising is simply criticised for being in poor taste. Apart from freedom of speech considerations, even well-intentioned and thoughtful people will have different and sometimes contradictory opinions about what constitudes ‘bad taste’ or should be prohibited. We can only act if the ad, in our judgement, offends against widely accepted moral, social or cultural standards.

We received very few complaints about this ad and it would suggest that this ad is not causing any serious or widespread offence. Though the number of complaints we receive is only one of several factors that we consider when dealing with a particular issue, it is a useful indicator of the response that an advertisement has provoked.

I realise this decision will disappoint you but I’ve passed your comments to the advertiser (without revealing your identity) so they’re aware of your views.”

Apart from the breathtakingly patronising tone – let us explain to you silly women – and the notes of “don’t be so sensitive, love” – HOW IS THAT AD NOT OFFENSIVE TO WOMEN?! The ASA do not understand the drip-drip effect of constant negative stereotyping in advertising. The response amounts to “oh it wasn’t that bad, it wasn’t SERIOUS or WIDESPREAD offence”.


Tom // Posted 5 October 2008 at 10:45 pm

I agree it doesn’t promote bestiality – they looked nothing like animals! But the advert is still disturbing. The creatures were so humanised, and wearing feminine clothing. I automatically saw them and thought “women” not “antelopes” (or whatever they were). It’s still objectification and it’s *obvious*.

I agree. Idiots.

SnowdropExplodes // Posted 5 October 2008 at 11:17 pm

Yeah, I found the Orangina advert disgusting as well, if I remember it accurately, it does seem almost to be a rape-promoting advert. So, naturally, “no degradation there”! *shudder*

Bee // Posted 6 October 2008 at 10:06 am

I know this is a bit off topic as it’s not advertising per se, but thinking about this and the ghastly ads for Pot Noodle, Lynx etc reminded me of something and I didn’t know where else to post it. Last year I bought a box set of Lynx for my teenage son’s Christmas stocking (yeah, I know, I won’t be doing that again, but I had a temporary brainstorm in Boots and he does like to be “fragrant”) and because the box didn’t fit in the stocking, I took the bottles out to put in separately. Out also fell a “scorecard” featuring a number of “female” silhouettes with the message “To save your bedpost” or similar… presumably the idea being to keep a record of conquests! (Tongue in cheek, no doubt, but I can never see why that is supposed to make everything OK, and the “irony”, if any, is probably lost on many of the recipients.)

Needless to say, that delightful little extra went straight into the bin, and I am certainly not buying the revolting stuff again. Had naively thought I was buying mere pongy toiletries rather than some kind of Nuts magazine mentality in a box.

I guess there’s not really anyone to complain to about that kind of thing, apart from the company itself.

Amy Clare // Posted 6 October 2008 at 11:06 am

Cara –

I wrote to the ASA to complain about the Pot Noodle ad and got exactly (almost verbatum) the same response. It was the bit about ‘prevailing standards in society’ that got me – i.e. meaning ‘everyone thinks sexism is fine so therefore this ad is not offensive’ etc. She (oh the irony) was basically conceding that women don’t have the right to be protected against sexism in the media because society is sexist so it’s tough. The mind boggles.

Saranga // Posted 6 October 2008 at 1:40 pm

Bee – that’s revolting.

Jess // Posted 6 October 2008 at 1:52 pm

I think it’d be a good idea to challenge the ASA’s criteria. Complaining that individual adverts are sexist, when they’re clearly finding it impossible to recognise sexism, and/or find sexism inoffensive, clearly isn’t working.

Perhaps writing directly to them to challenge their view on sexist advertising and call for their codes to be revised might help?

Catherine Redfern // Posted 6 October 2008 at 2:21 pm

A large group of us wrote a letter to them about this a few years ago, but obviously little has changed. But a senior person did reply. I’ll see if I can dig it out from my files.

Kirsty // Posted 6 October 2008 at 5:15 pm

It drives me mad that these ads are seen as ok because of the ‘prevailing attitudes of society’. Society has a responsibility to confront and overcome its prejudices, not reinforce them and trivialise the complaints of those who speak out against them.

Lucy R // Posted 7 October 2008 at 10:04 am

This is quite related: I was reading the Metro (yes, I know) on the train this morning and happened across a full-page advert for “Pomegreat”, a fruit juice. The advert consisted of a naked woman, sitting on the floor sideways to the camera (arm covering boobs) ‘suggestively’ holding half a pomegranate, and surrounded by more pomegranates. And, get this, the tagline was “Sex Kittens Don’t Drink Milk” !!!! WTF?!!?! I could go into more detail about the deliberately deep red, fleshy colouring of the fruit, or the horrendous text at the bottom about sexy women eating “Pomegreat”. Can someone tell me what the hell any of that has to do with fruit juice? I left the paper on the train but I might see if I can find another copy and complain. It really made me feel sick.

Aimee // Posted 7 October 2008 at 9:39 pm

I’m so glad you posted this. The ASA make me so angry. I made complaints about those awful Nutz adverts a while ago and I also wrote to them about that really horrble, racist Alan Hanson advert for Morrissons. The one where he looks a foreign football player up and down with obvious distate and suggest we might like something more ‘exotic’. Yuck. I got pretty much the same responses as above with certain keywords changed. The code they adhere to is farcical. Perhaps some kind of pressure group might make a difference?

Anna // Posted 8 October 2008 at 1:34 am

yet the Oasis advert gets banned for.. encouraging teenage pregnancy?

I am. completely. gobsmacked.

Anthropomorphic, obviously female, sexualised characters can partake in some giant sexual metaphor involving ejaculation A SOFT DRINK.. yet an advert [that I quite liked, actually] is pulled because the pregnant woman in it speaks with a broad accent and ..looks young? WHAT? what the hell?

Qubit // Posted 8 October 2008 at 10:24 am

Lucy R, I would imagine that the advert you saw might have some grounds for complaint as it discouraged drinking milk. Also I think there was some misrepresentation of the product in the Oasis add since replacing all water with an artificially sweetened fruit flavoured drink would be considered unhealthy and the add didn’t reflect this. I’d imagine that is one reason it was pulled. There are possibly grounds for elements of false advertising.

I think sexism in adds isn’t considered grounds for complaint as it reflects society rather than corrupts society. I think also it is a common feeling that men would be happier if their girlfriends moaned less and were generally happy people (whether they have grounds to moan or not). I think this attitude is prevalent among men and women with women frequently criticizing others for being bad girlfriends for being upset about things their partner does.

Sadly with such a deeply ingrained attitude I don’t think it would be easy to recognise this as sexism or even think it should be censored because I think most people would consider this the normal attitude.

The add for Orangina was terrifying, I don’t think I could find it offensive because I found it too freaky and disgusting. I didn’t like the sexism in it but my reaction was a lot stronger to adds that just annoy me such as the Rustlers add, which annoyed me a lot. It made me feel uncomfortable and unhappy but I don’t know why.

Clare Laxton // Posted 8 October 2008 at 2:37 pm

Also really glad that this has been brought up – I complained last year about Cillit Bang’s advert that stated ‘Millions of women are doing it’ (about cleaning with the product) saying that it totally stereotyped cleaning as women’s work and perpetuated the view that it should be the women that do the cleaning. Inevtiably it wasnt upheld! I add my support to this campaign and any joint lobbying we do to get the ASA to change their criteria!

Lucz // Posted 8 October 2008 at 3:22 pm

So now we’ve all complained about this, how is future correspondence going to be handled?

Should we all write individually to complain about the way they handle gender-related complaints?

Do you simply propose that we all complain more frequently, and follow up their response letters with complaints about their responses?

Will The F word post more frequently on issues to complain about, for those of us who are not so frequently exposed to the mainstread medias?

Sabre // Posted 8 October 2008 at 4:40 pm

I think that for the ASA, the notion of ‘prevailing attitudes of society’ just depends on how many people complain. However this doesn’t let them off the hook. Someone should have a moral or ethical responsibility to ensure that adverts are not offensive or degrading to sections of the population, no matter how accepted they are by society (or rather the apathy of society). To change things perhaps they need to look at the compostion of their committees/people who approve adverts and ensure that there is an appropriate balance there.

She-Ra // Posted 8 October 2008 at 5:02 pm

Got the same rubbish reply from them and today they’ve banned the silly cactus kid oasis ad as encouraging teen pregnancy! Funny how they don’t class a green man with spikes as purely ficitional fantasy. It seems that if the ad concerns the objectification of women and their sexuality by men then it’s perfectly fine however if a ‘good’ girl is portrayed as falling for or as the implication is in ad- having sex with a man who is different they ban it because of course now all impressionale girls are going to go out there and have sex with cacti!It’s pathetic. On what basis are they in a position to tell us whether we as women find something objectifying or not?!!! Fully prepared to give em hell over this!

Rose // Posted 8 October 2008 at 7:29 pm

Franky, TV ads just make me angry. Its the simple rule, pretty little house-wife looking after the kids, belonging in the home, instructed in how to maintain the household to her husbands likely by the educated male voiceover.

To some extent… the advertisers are trying to sell their products in this society, and the adverts are applicable. It is the sickness of society that is being reflected in the ads. When I am offended by an advert it is really its basis in reality that is offending me. It is a society where girls are grabbed at in the streets, date-rape drugs are common, and Tory MP’s get vouchers for strip clubs.

Why would women be respected in media and advertising when they’re not respected in the street? Maybe I just need to dose up on optimism, but I really don’t think the patriarchy is listening.

Has anybody thought of putting an ASA policy questioning petition on the governments online petition site?

A Different Helen // Posted 8 October 2008 at 10:31 pm

Thats a good idea Rose.

I think the reason that the ASA dont get many complaints is that women quickly learn that their complaints are never upheld, and so they give up making them. They’ve certainly worn me down.

not an object // Posted 13 November 2008 at 1:23 pm

was so very encouraged to find this forum and see that my friends and i are not the only ones who notice adverts that make our blood boil!

have just submitted a complaint to ASA about the pomegreat advert. i would encourage everyone to encourage everyone else to complain to the ASA, perhaps even with copying each other’s text in the complaint section.

if people have templates for adverts we’ve all seen that they could share then we would very easily be able to increase the number of complaints the ASA receives!

the letter below isn’t of the best quality but i wanted to keep it short-please do share suggestions of how we can write more effective complaints!

“The advert is showing full nudity which is inappropriate and offensive particularly in a publication that is so widely and easily available. The advert discriminates against women by encouraging their sexual objectification and their cheap and easy use for advertising of a growing range of products. The full nudity is additionally utterly unrelated to the product in question which is a juice which has no effects whatsoever on the external body. The advert supports the growing obsession of showing the naked human-and particularly female-form, which has knock on effects on women’s self esteem and the degrading way that men treat women. The ASA should for once stand up for women’s rights and for what is right for society which doesn’t include full nudity freely available in the morning papers. Nudity isn’t just nudity-it is something that affects all of us, however much we might like to think that we are just too ‘evolved’ to be affected by it in the myriad ways that we as a society are.”

Not an Object // Posted 15 November 2008 at 8:23 pm

i received this morning a response from ASA re:the Pomegreat ad complaint that I had made (which I’ve posted above). There were so many objectionable parts to the letter but here are a few I thought I would share (and which highlight why people might be giving up on complaining (the ASA received only 12 complaints about this fully nude advert!)):

-“[the ASA] has to make a decision taking into account…the prevailing standards of decency”

-“Council noted there was nothing explicitly sexual in the images” (despite the pose, the look on the woman’s face,the wording of the advert (referring to sex kittens) and the fact that the woman is on or next to a bed!)

I will be writing to ASA with reference to these two points asking:

-is a “standards” agency really only meant to follow prevailing standards of decency rather than having pre-determined ones and to what extent are they in fact promoting certain standards and to what extent are they only reflecting them (in the ads they allow)

-how can this advert possibly be said to be “[suitable] to be seen by children” and contain “nothing explicitly sexual”? what do ads have to contain nowadays to count as being explicit? penetrative intercourse? i’m serious-what is the “majority” meant to be accepting?

one final note is that the ASA said “Our assessments must consider…the advertiser’s right to expression and the freedom of the unaffected majority to receive the advertiser’s message”…

-since when have advertiser’s rights trumped the rights of a society to a healthy functioning

-since when do we defined ‘unaffected’ simply by those who do not write complaints (thats the definition that ASA seems to be using-if you are not affected you don’t write-simple)

-what an amazing hard-won freedom we have-to “receive the advertiser’s message”…oh what glory! sorry for the sarcasm, but where has society gotten to?

Amy Clare // Posted 16 November 2008 at 4:22 pm

Something I’ve recently found out, from ‘Captive State’ by George Monbiot: the ASA is actually funded by the advertising industry. The industry is ‘self-regulated’ in other words. Therefore what incentive does the ASA actually have to criticise and sanction ad-makers? None whatsoever! The opposite is the case. No wonder the advertisers’ ‘freedom’ is being so staunchly defended. What’s more the ASA is toothless, having no statutory powers. So it is in the ASA’s interest not to criticise its paymasters (the ad makers) and when it does criticise them, not much happens. Brilliant democracy we live in, isn’t it?

not an object // Posted 17 November 2008 at 11:43 am

amy-thanks so much for that information-i never knew that but now i think about it it makes perfect sense. the question then arises-what should the caring public do? what is the ‘something’ in the ‘let’s do something about this’ in the title of the blog? i heard of a campaign a while back called ‘object’ but i don’t know if it is still running? i wonder if anybody has every thought of taking legal action against the ASA for failing to protect the public?

not an object // Posted 17 November 2008 at 12:22 pm

amy-thanks so much for that information-i never knew that but now i think about it it makes perfect sense. the question then arises-what should the caring public do? what is the ‘something’ in the ‘let’s do something about this’ in the title of the blog? i heard of a campaign a while back called ‘object’ but i don’t know if it is still running? i wonder if anybody has every thought of taking legal action against the ASA for failing to protect the public?

not an object // Posted 17 November 2008 at 12:28 pm

for those who are interested-here’s the link to object-

i don’t know how active they are-i do remember contacting them about a year ago for further info etc but i haven’t heard from them since…

Amy Clare // Posted 15 December 2008 at 4:01 pm

Just thought I’d add another advert to this post – it’s a computer game ad – I can’t remember the exact name of the game, but the tag line is ‘play with everything’. There’s one ad where the narrator is saying he’s created a world about his ex girlfriend, and there’s a bit in it where he says “and here is my ex’s really annoying friend, but you push this button and she just dies, which is really nice.” The last bit is his exact words and unsurprisingly I find this not in the least bit funny. It seems to be suggesting that creating a computer game where you commit violent acts against your ex girlfriend and her female friends is a really funny, entertaining thing to do. Anyone else seen this ad?

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