A Melbourne motorbike store has been forced to cover up a 30-year-old poster in its window showing a naked toddler after the advertisement was found to be sexual by the Advertising Standards Board.
The Thomas Cook advertising poster in the window of Mars Leather features a group of men dressed in denim and leather and a naked toddler wearing boots and sunnies.
The child’s groin is covered by the bar of the wooden fence the group is standing behind.
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But a complaint to the ASB said the poster “made me cringe”. The complainant said the poster is “inappropriate” and should be taken down.
“Given the current media attention on sex offence cases involving young boys, it is inappropriate even at the best of times, but certainly more so now,” the complainant said.
Mars Leather responded to the complaint saying the poster had been on display for “30 years give or take”. But the ASB found the poster was in breach of section 2.2 of the advertising standards code, which provides advertising “should not employ sexual appeal in a manner which is exploitative and degrading”.
The ASB determined the poster employs what might be considered “by some members of the community” to be sexual appeal.
The board acknowledged the poster was intended to be “an innocent portrayal of a young boy trying to appear tough alongside grown men”. But the code provides “children must not be portrayed in a manner which treats them as objects of sexual appeal.”
The ASB said it was “obliged” to uphold the complaint once there is any suggestion of sexual appeal in the advertisement.
“The board considered that community standards on appropriate depictions of children have changed over many years,” the ASB said.
In response to the ruling Mars Leather covered the lower half of the poster so it is no longer visible to anyone walking past the store. The covering sticker means only the adults heads and upper torsos are visible.
Lee Petric, manager of Mars Leather, told SmartCompany only one complaint had been made about the poster.
“We said it has been there for many years and it is not exposing anything,” he says.
“There is more exposure on the television. But the decision was made and we covered it, what else could we do?”
Petric says the complainant came into the shop a few times to make sure the poster was covered up.
“It’s all just from one person disliking it. Even if it was 10 people you would say, ‘Yes, OK’,” he says.
“It is ridiculous, for one person to dislike it and make a big thing about it. I can’t blame the people who made the decision.”
Dr Lauren Rosewarne from the University of Melbourne says the ASB ruling highlights how community standards change over time.
“It seems funny that someone is offended now, 30 years later,” she says.
“The high vigilance around the portrayal of children at times can be excessive, now any presentation of children is looked at really closely as we are in a paedophile scare culture.”
Rosewarne says the idea that an image of a naked child is sexual is “obviously very subjective”.
“There are a whole lot of images from the early ‘70s that were controversial at the time and we would laugh now and say they are not risqué, but in this instance the pendulum has swung the other way and we have become more conservative,” she says.