Advertising Watchdog Shoots Down Boohoo, Missguided Ads for Being "Socially Irresponsible" & "Objectifying Women"

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image: Missguided

British fast fashion brands are coming under fire with an advertising watchdog for their pattern of "objectifying women” and being “socially irresponsible” in their marketing and advertising efforts. On Wednesday, the British Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”) called foul on a July 2019 email marketing campaign from Boohoo, which featured a subject line that read “Send Nudes [eyes emoji].” According to the ASA’s decision, the body of the email contained a photo of a female model wearing a beige jacket and cream-colored dress with the words, “Send nudes. Set the tone with new season hues,” written across the image.

After receiving a consumer complaint about the email, the ASA – a self-regulatory organization tasked with ensuring that advertising across all UK media is free of misleading, harmful or offensive advertisements – initiated a probe, and found that the reference to "send nudes" was “socially irresponsible,” particularly since Boohoo’s target market consists of women as young as 16 years old. 

Boohoo responded to the ASA’s probe, declaring that “nude” was being used “solely to describe the [garment] color, which resembled that of the wearer’s skin,” and noted that “the word is widely used by other retailers in relation to apparel.” The 13-year old retailer, which brought in nearly $750 million in revenue last year for its trendy and affordable garments and accessories, also stated that in order to be eligible to receive its emails, individuals must be at least 18 years of age.

Unpersuaded, the ASA held that while the ad may have played on “a well-known phrase to highlight a fashion trend,” the “specific reference chosen [to have] the effect of making light of a potentially harmful social trend,” noting that “increased pressure to share such photos had been linked to negative outcomes for young people.”

In terms of the age requirement to sign up for Boohoo’s mailing list, the ASA determined that “online age is often misreported,” and Boohoo failed to “provide details of any further steps [it] had taken to reduce the likelihood of under-18s being targeted with the ad,” which was especially likely due to the “general price point of Boohoo’s clothing and the age of the target market.” 

As a result, the ASA has required Boohoo to refrain from using such language in marketing campaigns going forth, and the retailer must ensure that all future ads are “socially responsible.” 

Meanwhile, unrelated but similarly situated retailer Missguided has been the subject of ASA scrutiny, as well, after running a 30 second commercial during ITV Hub-streamed episodes of popular reality show Love Island. In a separate decision on Wednesday, the ASA is requiring Missguided to pull the on-demand commercial – one promoting swimwear, such as a $1 bikini, among other wares – because it "objectifies women.” 

The ASA decision comes on the heels of a public complaint that the ad – which it says shows “young women on a beach with their legs apart in seductive poses, a woman running her hand up her inner thigh, a group of women in thong bikinis and another woman posing in a bikini with her legs astride on a motorcycle” – is "overly sexualized.” 

Missguided – still currently embroiled in a $10 million-plus lawsuit with Kim Kardashian – confirmed that while “the imagery may be construed as sexual, including the image of the strawberry between [a model’s] lips,” it has “merely used motifs to promote a lifestyle rather than just clothing … aimed at those under 30 years of age.”  

“The display of skin was relevant, necessary and unavoidable given that the ad was promoting the summer wear collection, which included bikinis,” a rep for Missguided told the ASA, noting that “the ad is not overly different to images one might see on a beach during summer months or that were used in any ad for a bikini” or different from “the opening titles and content of the [Love Island] program, itself.” 

The ASA ultimately determined that some of the quick-cut scenes in the commercial are “in keeping with typical ads for such products.” However, others, it asserted, “went further and were highly sexualized, including some that did not show any of the clothing that was being advertised or include the model’s face, and [presented] in the context of the on-screen statement, ‘If you plan on wearing clothes this summer … we’ve got you covered … kind of.’” 

Despite Missguided’s claim that its ad portrays “show empowering, confident young women,” the ASA disagreed, stating that “the cumulative effect of the [commercial’s] scenes meant that overall, the products had been presented in an overly-sexualized way that invited viewers to view the women as sexual objects.” And with that in mind, it has banned the commercial and phohibited Missguided from running others ads that “objectify women” or that are “likely to cause serious offense.” 

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