Lingerie advertising in outdoor media: determination summary

This information provides an overview of Ad Standards Community Panel determinations on complaints about women’s lingerie advertising in outdoor media, including shop fronts and shopping centre display media.

Lingerie is available in many styles, and the depiction of a person in sexy lingerie is of itself not in breach of the Code. However, the Code provides guidance and limits on the manner lingerie can be advertised, and this will vary depending on the likely audience.

Lingerie advertising across different mediums may raise similar or different issues, with more revealing images likely to be considered appropriate where they are instore or online where the audience is more targeted.

Ad Standards has commissioned research into Community Panel determinations since 2007 and has found that decisions made by the Panel have largely aligned with the sentiment of the wider community. Where there has been a lack of alignment, community opinion has almost always been more conservative that Panel decisions. The general community has consistently been more conservative in its views around the issue of sexuality and nudity than for other sections of the Code.

Guiding principles and relevant decisions

Lingerie is a product that is legally able to be advertised, and Ad Standards supports advertiser’s rights to promote their product. There are many ways to advertise lingerie without breaching the AANA Code of Ethics. This determination summary discusses the Code of Ethics issues most usually considered by the Community Panel for complaints about lingerie advertising.

Section 2.2 – Sexual appeal must not be used in a manner that is exploitative or degrading

Exploitative definition: (a) taking advantage of the sexual appeal of a person, or group of people, by depicting them as objects or commodities; or (b) focusing on their body parts where this bears no direct relevance to the product or service being advertised.

Degrading definition: lowering in character or quality a person or group of persons.

The Practice Note to the Code of Ethics states: “For material to breach this section of the Code, it must contain sexual appeal, however not all images or other material depicting people who are scantily clad or naked will be unacceptable under this section. This section restricts the use of material only if it employs sexual appeal in a manner which is exploitative of or degrading to any individual or group of people.”

The Community Panel has determined that:

  • It is reasonable for lingerie advertisers to depict women in the product they are selling, if the women appear confident and are not posed in a sexually provocative manner or in a manner suggestive of sexual activity.
  • Advertising that suggests the woman is property or that she exists for the enjoyment of others will breach this section of the Code. This includes the depictions of unequal power such as a woman in lingerie being surrounded by fully dressed men if it does not have relevance to the product being sold.
  • Advertising for lingerie can breach this section of the Code, if the advertisement suggests the woman is the product, rather than the lingerie.

Section 2.4 – Sex, sexuality and nudity

“Advertising or Marketing Communications shall treat sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience.”

The Practice Note for the Code states: “Images which are not permitted are those which are highly sexually suggestive and inappropriate for the relevant audience. Explicit sexual depictions in marcomms, particularly where the depiction is not relevant to the product or service being advertised, are generally objectionable to the community and will offend Prevailing Community Standards.”

2.4 – Does the ad treat sex, sexuality or nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience

What is ‘sensitive to the relevant audience’?

Relevant audience is informed by the media placement plan and content of the advertising or marketing communication. For the purposes of advertisements in public places, the Community Panel will not only take account of the relevant audience, but it can also take a broad view of the unintended “audience”. This recognises the broad nature of the audience for advertisements in public places, which may include Minors. The Community Panel will not just have regard to whom the advertisement is targeted (the relevant audience) but the Community Panel also looks at who can see it and the Community Panel will take that into consideration in determining their view of whether the advertisement treats sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to that overall audience.

Being sensitive to something is relevantly defined as indicating that ‘if you are sensitive to other people's needs, problems, or feelings, you show understanding and awareness of them.’ (https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/sensitive

  • The requirement to consider whether sexual suggestion is ‘sensitive to the relevant audience’ is a concept requiring them to consider who the relevant audience is and to have an understanding of how they might react to or feel about the advertisement – the concept of how subtle sexual suggestions is or might be is relevant to the Community Panel considering how children, and other sections of the community, might consider the advertisement.
  • The location of the advertisement is taken into consideration when assessing the relevant audience. Lingerie advertisements inside the store are likely to have a predominately adult audience, compared with store windows.
  • Care should be taken when including characters that are appealing to children, such as Santa Claus, as this can mean that the Community Panel will consider that the advertisement is likely to be more attractive to children or more likely to attract their attention.

Sex:

Sex is relevantly defined as: “sexual intercourse; sexually stimulating or suggestive behaviour.” (Macquarie Dictionary 2006).

The Community Panel has determined:

  • Showing people posed together in an advertisement for lingerie, regardless of gender, is acceptable if it does not appear that the people are about to engage in sexual activity.
  • Advertisements that feature poses that make it appear that a couple are about to engage in sexual activity, including straddling or embracing another person, are likely to breach the Code.

Sexuality:

Sexuality is relevantly defined as: “The state or fact of being heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual; sexual preference or orientation; one’s capacity to experience and express sexual desire; the recognition or emphasising of sexual matters.” (Macquarie Dictionary 2006).

  • It is reasonable for lingerie advertisers to depict women in the product they are selling, where the images are not overly or unnecessarily sexualised and do not use inappropriate nudity.
  • Showing multiple people in an advertisement for lingerie, regardless of gender, is acceptable if it does not show highly sexualised poses.
  • Images that feature women in highly sexualised poses are likely to breach the Code if they are not appropriate for a broad audience. This includes poses such as legs spread, pushing the torso or bottom forward in a sexualised manner, or reclining with back arched and eyes closed.
  • Care should be taken with images that feature S&M style lingerie. Featuring a collar in itself will not breach that Code but the addition of props and overly sexual poses will make it more likely to be insensitive to the relevant audience.
  • The use of nipple pasties can draw attention to the breast and nipples of the woman which is not appropriate for a broad audience.
  • Advertisers are free to use whomever they wish in advertising and featuring same-sex people or couples in an advertisement is not an issue that would breach any section of the Code. However, as with advertising featuring a single person, advertising that features a couple needs to ensure that the advertisement does not show overly sexual content.

Nudity:

Nude is relevantly defined as: ‘something nude or naked’, and that nude and naked are defined to be ‘unclothed and includes something ‘without clothing or covering’. Partial nudity is a factor when considering whether an advertisement treats nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience.

The Practice Note for the Code provides: “Full frontal nudity and explicit pornographic language is not permitted. Images of genitalia are not acceptable. Images of nipples may be acceptable in advertisements for plastic surgery or art exhibits for example.”

In addition, the Community Panel has determined:

  • A higher level of nudity is considered acceptable in mediums which are unlikely to have a young audience.
  • Advertising that contains explicit nudity will be found to breach this section of the Code, especially if in a store window which is likely to be seen by a wide audience including children. Explicit nudity includes full breasts, genitals, pubic region or full bottom, including when it is seen under sheer fabric.
  • Advertising should be wary in the use of lighting or photoshop, which may bring a sexually gratuitous focus to body parts. Images that feature very high cut or low cut briefs or G-string should take steps to avoid bringing attention to the nudity.
  • Advertising that features nipples that are obscured by fabric or editing is considered to be acceptable by the Community Panel.
  • Advertising which suggests nudity but where the people featured are adequately covered will usually be considered acceptable where the nudity is not sexualised.

2.6 – Health and safety – Body Image

As per the AANA Code of Ethics Practice Note the issue of body image can be raised under Section 2.6.

The Practice Note provides: “Lingerie advertising must not portray unrealistic ideal body image by portraying body shapes or features that are unrealistic or unattainable through healthy practices.”

While the use of people in smaller or larger bodies is itself not necessarily problematic, advertisers must ensure that models do not adopt a pose or are not depicted in a way which produces an unrealistic sense of body image, for example through the style of the advertising, the clothing, lighting, or make-up used.

Where technology is used to digitally alter images of people to such an extent that their body shape, or features, are no longer realistic or attainable through healthy practices, or where the changes are not justifiable in the context of the product or service advertised, the advertisement may breach the Code if it is contrary to prevailing community standards relating to health and safety.

  • Advertising that shows slim women, as long as they are of a healthy body size, are unlikely to be seen as a display of unrealistic ideal body image.

Advertising featuring men in underwear

The provisions detailed in this determination summary equally apply to men’s underwear advertising, including the need to take into account the likely audience of the advertisement. However, Ad Standards does not receive a large number of complaints about advertising that features men in underwear.

Generally, the Australian community does not find the depiction of male chests and nipples to be strongly sexualised or inappropriate nudity.

  • The Community Panel has determined that a bare chested man is a degree of nudity that children would come across in routine situations, and that it is not inappropriate or unusual for men to have bare torsos when in situations such as the beach, in the backyard or in their homes.
  • Advertising in a public place that shows a male in a sexually suggestive pose wearing underwear that clearly shows an outline of his genitals will breach Section 2.4 of the Code.
  • Advertising that shows a male in underwear but does not show any private parts of the model and does not depict an overly sexualised pose will not breach Section 2.4 of the Code.