March 19, 2015 by Nash Riggins
In this harsh economic climate, it’s not always easy to convince people to buy overpriced goods they don’t need. After all, there’s an ever-expansive sea of competition out there. What’s a poor marketing executive to do?
When in doubt, stick your product next to a woman’s crotch. Whether you’re selling underwear, cola or pistachios, that’s the industry norm. It’s blatantly sexist and a little trashy – but it’s what companies do. Yet for whatever reason, UK regulators are pretty inconsistent about when and where they choose to try and tackle sex in the media.
This week, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority has continued its long and hallowed tradition of banning the marketing tactics of controversial US retailer American Apparel. What did they do this time? Show a model wearing a thong from behind.
Ok, so there’s a little more to it than that. The reason this NSFW image is causing a hullaballoo is because the young woman whose bottom we’re staring at looks a little too young. In fact, one complainant went so far as to argue that the model in this risqué image looked under the age of 16 – thus sexualising a minor. The ASA justifiably pounced, because that’s obviously not on.
Yet it turned out this accusation of youth sexploitation was absolutely wrong. The model was 20. Honest mistake – I’m no good guessing ages, either. But instead of admitting the mistake, regulators decided this image should still be struck from the internet, regardless of the model’s age. Why? Because it “inappropriately sexualised young women“.
For a group of bureaucrats that sit around and look at adverts all day, that’s a pretty naïve rationale.
First and foremost, at this point it’s fair to say that American Apparel wants its promo materials to get banned. In fact, their entire marketing strategy is built around instigating sexual controversy. American Apparel execs love to flood the market with carnal and potentially sexist images, because it turns the company into an ideological talking point rather than an ordinary T-shirt manufacturer. When regulators decide the company has gone a step too far, they make a public ruling and newspapers all over the world publish the photos that we’re not supposed to be looking at.
It’s classic Tom Sawyer, reverse-psychology. It probably generates an obscene ROI.
But aside from the fact that the ASA is more or less getting hustled for free publicity, this apparent war on American Apparel continues to expose a blatant inconsistency in the enforcement of Britain’s regulatory framework.
We live in a country where so-called “family newspapers” have got a young woman’s tits jumping out at you three pages in, and Diet Coke is marketed using a man’s wet abs. Even brands that aren’t pedalling revealing clothing rely almost exclusively upon scantily-clad sex symbols to sell their products using gratuitous emphasis of the groin.
Bearing that in mind, a question begs the answer: if News Corp can market their newspapers by exploiting nude 20-year-old women, why can’t a fashion website promote itself using images that exploit almost-nude 20-year-old women?
This war on American Apparel has got to stop – least of all because it’s just giving the company exactly what it wants. Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing nice about the flagrant amount of sexism in Britain’s advertising industry. It really does need to stop. But the ASA has got to realise that it’s a complete waste of time to point a finger at one company in particular without pointing a finger at the industry as a whole. At the end of the day, if regulators are serious about waging some morally-driven war on sex, they need to put their money where their mouth is.