Marketing

Ultra Tune’s racy pop-up ads tread sexist ground, say complainants

Eloise Keating /

Ultra Tune’s racy pop-up ads tread sexist ground, say complainants

A previous Ultra Tune campaign that caught the attention of the advertising watchdog

One of Ultra Tune’s bondage-themed pop-up ads

The advertising watchdog has dismissed a complaint against Ultra Tune, after the car service company was again accused of objectifying women.

The latest complaints come after Ultra Tune was the subject of an online petition last year, which called for the company to withdraw an ad that featured two rubber-clad dominatrix-style women to promote its tyres.

In this case, the complaint was about a pop-up advertisement on the Ultra Tune website, which featured two women leaning against a car tyre. One woman is wearing a black rubber body suit with a zipper up the front, while the other is dressed in a black rubber dress and is holding a tasselled whip. The image is accompanied by text which says: “We’re into rubber now. Ultra Tune now offer a full range of tyres to suit all makes and models”.

“I find it deeply offensive that a company has to resort to objectifying females in order to sell a service,” said the complainant.

“And in this case, there is no way to simply ‘avoid’ the advertisement as you need to close the window to continue onto the site.”

In response to the complaint, Ultra Tune said the pop-up, which was designed to only display once a day, did not breach the Advertising Code of Ethics.

“The models are fully clothed [and] the images do not portray nor suggest sex or sexual act and are not being portrayed as objects of lust,” said Ultra Tune.

“The images do not include any graphic nudity and there is no uncovered flesh”.

The Advertising Standards Board agreed with Ultra Tune that the ad did not breach Section 2.2 of the code of ethics, which prohibits advertising from using “sexual appeal in a manner which is exploitative and degrading of any individual or group of people”.

“The board noted that the women appear confident and in control of their actions and that the use of women dressed in rubber outfits and posed in this manner is a humorous reference to ‘rubber suits and tyres’,” said the board.

The board also found the ad did not breach Section 2.4 of the code, which mandates that advertising must “treat sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience”, as the ad was “only mildly sexually suggestive” and “an image of this nature is not inappropriate for the intended audience”.

The ad standards board has previously dismissed a number of complaints about a similar Ultra Tune television ad, which showed a woman with her face close to a tyre and the phrase “We’re into rubber”.

That ad was named in the top 10 most complained about ads of the year, despite the watchdog ruling it did not breach the advertising code of ethics.

Another one of the Ultra Tune pop-ups

Melbourne University senior lecturer Dr Lauren Rosewarne, an expert on advertising and gender, told SmartCompany pop-up website advertising can have the same effect as a billboard advertisement, as the audience is effectively “held captive”, with little choice but to be exposed to it.

But Rosewarne says regulating advertising on a company website is difficult as individuals who visit a particular company’s website have made a choice to do so.

“There is some level of consent to visit that specific website,” she says. “It’s the same as entering a department store and then arguing you are offended by a display. You have gone into the store.”

Rosewarne says this case illustrates the danger of a business making assumptions about their audience.

“It happens a lot in the automotive industry, they are tapping into what they assume is a young, male audience who will find the ad funny,” Rosewarne says.

“But the thing is, women also drive cars and they have to get their car serviced. There is a lot of competition in that industry so it is a dangerous strategy.”

Rosewarne says many people believe in the adage that “sex sells” but that concept has not actually been proven in advertising research.

“People might remember the ad, but do they remember the brand and associate positive connotations with it? Probably not.”

SmartCompany contacted Ultra Tune but did not receive a response prior to publication.

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Eloise Keating

Eloise Keating is the editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Eloise was news editor at Books+Publishing, the trade press for the Australian book industry.

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