Roxy ad campaign sparks backlash for use of a sexy surfer: Four lessons in campaign planning


Surfwear brand Roxy has had a wipe out with its latest ad campaign, with consumers crying out over the clothing company’s latest advertisement, saying it goes too far in sexualising a young female surfer.

The company’s YouTube promotion features a blonde female surfer, scantily-clad in lingerie for a large portion of the commercial, and asks viewers to guess the identity of the attractive blonde.

The purpose of the ad was to raise awareness for the upcoming Roxy Pro Biarritz competition and while this has certainly been achieved, some social media users and social commentators have gone so far as to label the campaign soft-core porn.

Facebook user Mimi Roterman commented: “#DAREYOURSELF to release your next promo video showing a ‘complex’ and ‘multi-dimensional’ female surfer, and include an athlete not being sexy: How about a female surfer who isn’t in their teens/20s, doesn’t have blonde hair, a body size larger than size six and is not surfing in a bikini.”

Roterman’s views were shared by many other Roxy fans, with the commenters predominantly female, although some users said they were not fazed by the sexy commercial.

Twitter users also expressed their outrage over the campaign, with commenters accusing Roxy of objectifying women.

Late last week, Roxy released a statement on the company Facebook page responding to the community’s complaints.

“Obviously, there’s been much conversation around the video we released recently. We believe all athletes are naturally beautiful, in and out of the water. You certainly don’t have to be sexy to be an athlete, and we also believe it’s not wrong to be an athlete and to be sexy, if you choose to be.”

“We don’t judge one to be better than the other and we don’t believe in excluding one for the other,” the statement said.


SmartCompany contacted Roxy, but no further comment was received prior to publication.

Marketing agency Taboo’s strategy director Richard Hack told SmartCompany Roxy should have anticipated the mixed reaction to the campaign.

“It’s a bit provocative and it touches on the line between women’s sport and women’s fashion. It becomes an issue if Roxy hadn’t anticipated the reaction.

“While there have been a number of people reacting negatively against the ad, what matters is how the target audience reacts to it. If you’re going to push the limits, you’ve got to have your target audience in mind,” he says.

Hack says from a creative perspective, pushing the limits is not necessarily a bad thing, but brands need to be aware they will inevitably upset some people.

“I’d say the reasons the negative reaction might be happening is that people are more focused on the sport, than they are about Roxy as a fashion brand.

Hack says there are a number of things businesses need to keep in mind before launching an online campaign:

1. Know your target audience

Hack says brands need to make sure their ad will be received well by their key consumers.

“You need to consider who your target is, who the brand is in the mind of the audience, where your competition is and where the brand lies in the eyes of the audience.”

“One you’ve got an idea of your position, if it’s not where you want to be in the eyes of your audience, change your communications. If it’s appealing to the people who want to purchase your products, then it’s an effective piece of communication,” he says.

2. It’s okay to be controversial

For brands, Hack says sometimes it’s okay for a campaign to have a “polarising”effect.

“These days, there are so many brands out there in every category, sometimes by being polarising this is what gets your cut through and gets you noticed.”

“Otherwise, you can lose the effectiveness and the punch of your advertising, as long as the people who are upset aren’t your target audience,” he says.

3. Know your objectives

As well as knowing your target audience, Hack says brands need to have a set of clear objectives outlining what they want to achieve from a campaign.

“For this Roxy piece, it seems the purpose would be around brand awareness and awareness for the upcoming competition. Given the hype it’s got, there is now a lot more awareness than there was three years ago.

“A communications piece needs to be tailored around ticking the boxes,” he says.

4. Anticipate the reaction

With the release of a campaign, brands need to anticipate the reaction of their audience.

“Before releasing a campaign and it goes live, it’s important to forecast what reaction you think you’re going to get from various different stakeholders – target audience, community groups, etc,” says Hack.

“If you’re going to take a risk and you know it could offend some people, have a crisis management plan in place before it goes live, so you’re walking in head first and you’re prepared for any backlash you might get,” Hack says.


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