April 16, 2024

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ASA Makes Snap Amendment To FKA Twigs Decision, But Root And Branch Correction Goes Against The Grain. – Advertising, Marketing & Branding

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In an usual but not unprecedented move, the Advertising
Standards Authority has reviewed its own recent decision about
Calvin Klein’s ad featuring FKA Twigs. It appears to have done
so on its own initiative, rather than as a result of a request for
Independent Review by Calvin Klein, following widespread criticism,
including by FKA Twigs herself. To be honest, we are a little bit
hurt that their new decision and blog post makes no reference to our own
thoughtful observations that you cannot objectively assess objectification of
women, and that they failed to take account of the singer’s own rights of freedom of
expression.

In the original decision, the ASA concluded that the image of
FKA Twigs was overly sexual and therefore in breach of the CAP
Code, rather than being merely mildly sexual and therefore
compatible with it. As a result, the ad both (a) objectified her as
a woman and (b) was inappropriate for use in an untargeted medium
such as a poster ad. You may recall that these two posters
featuring Kendall Jenner were originally found to be not guilty of
either objectifying or overly sexualising her.

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The amended decision now says that although the image did not
objectify FKA Twigs, it was still too sexual for use in a poster
ad, but this remains a bone of contention. The ASA’s blog post
has a slightly self-congratulatory tone, proclaiming, “Our
decision to ban only the poster featuring FKA Twigs was widely
criticised, not least by the singer herself. We’re not deaf to
the commentary that surrounds our decision making. We’re
genuinely interested in hearing what people think and have to say.
And we’re not afraid to challenge our own thinking and change
our decisions if we think we’ve got it wrong
.”

It is a good thing that the ASA has decided to look at this
decision again, particularly on its own initiative, and that is to
be applauded. But the outcome remains that the image of the FKA
Twigs is still banned from being used in posters because it is
overly sexual, whereas the two images of Kendall are only mildly
sexual and therefore perfectly permissible for use in posters. The
revised adjudication places great weight on the fact that in the
FKA Twigs photo you can see the side of one breast and the side of
her bottom, and while this does not amount to objectification, it
does make the image overly sexual.

Surely the sexual nature of an image is about much more than
whether the side of a breast or a bottom is visible? To my mind,
this iconic image of Marilyn Monroe is one of the most sexually
powerful images of a woman ever created, and yet her breasts and
buttocks are entirely covered.

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However, more relevant for these purposes is the ASA’s
recent history of adjudications in this area. For example, take the
adjudication about fashion brand Misguided for their poster ads from March
2020.

1437726d.jpg

The image on the left of the model in the blazer was found to be
overly sexual and therefore to objectify women, but the image of
the same model in the pink wrap mini dress was not. In addition,
the image on the right was considered to be acceptable for use as a
poster on the London Underground.

It is possible to see a distinction between the FKA Twigs image
and those of Kendall Jenner, as well as the one from the Misguided
campaign which was not banned. It all comes down to a little bit of
bare flesh in the wrong place. Any yet having decided to go back
and revisit their previous decision, it seems a shame that the ASA
did not go for a root and branch reform, and simply conclude that
the two complaints against the FKA Twigs ad were not upheld on
either count. Her photo is neither objectifying nor overly sexual,
regardless of a bit of bare flesh.

Going forward, the lesson for fashion brands wanting to show
some bare flesh in their poster ads is to follow the sage advice of
the late Kenny Everett, and make sure that its all done in the best
possible taste.

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The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.

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