Pub falls foul of advertising watchdog for ball and chain ad which vilifies women

A Perth pub has taken down a billboard featuring an old-fashioned ball and chain attached to a woman after the advertising watchdog ruled the advertisement vilified women.

The Hougoumont Hotel in Fremantle advertised its business on the Sitrling Highway with a billboard that featured a black and white image of a woman with a ship attached to her head. Attached to the woman was an old-fashioned image of a ball and chain and the text accompanying the pictures said: “Room for you and your ball and chain”.

But complaints received by the Advertising Standards Bureau said the image objectified women.

“The women, for one, has only part of her body showing, her face unimportant and covered by a ship – no doubt an artistic attempt at relating to Fremantle,” said the complainant.

“She is literally imprisoned to the label of ‘ball and chain’ by having a ball and chain attached to her in the picture. It encourages men (I’m guessing) to go to the Hougoumont with their female partner, referred to as their ‘ball and chain’, which I consider a highly offensive reference to give to a partner in a relationship of equality.”

“The ad implies that only now a woman has the right – but only as an object, a ‘ball and chain’, and only through the movement of her male partner who drags her around – to be allowed in the public sphere of the Hougoumont Hotel,” they continued.

But the Hougoumont Hotel said the image is “post-modern and requires the viewer to consider and break down the various elements of the image”.

“The complainant has misinterpreted the artwork or has failed to see the alternative perspectives that can be drawn from the image,” said the hotel, who added that “similar post-modern art is located throughout the hotel”.

“Depending on the individual’s inclination and understanding of historical Fremantle, the ball and chain may just as easily be seen to symbolise the male – and in reality, is a far closer link to the predominantly male convicts that arrived on [Fremantle’s last convict ship] the Hougoumont.”

While the advertising watchdog said the image of the woman did not amount to a depiction that used sexual appeal in an exploitative or degrading way, it did find the image breached section 2.1 of the Advertising Code which prohibits advertising that discriminates against or vilifies a person or section of the community on account of their gender.

“Overall the message to the broad community that is being delivered in the advertisement is a negative one and is purposefully categorising women as the ball and chain and not men,” said the watchdog.

Michelle Gamble of Marketing Angels told SmartCompany the Hougoumont Hotel appears to be “drawing a very long bow” to try to explain the image in terms of post-modernism or references to male convicts.

“For pubs and clubs, they know if they can attract women to their premises, they are more likely to attract men. But I think this probably backfired for them as it is offensive to women.”

Gamble says businesses may want to use advertising that is “quirky or edgy” but when it comes to using a highly exposed medium such as a billboard, getting a second opinion is essential.

“It’s not like a targeted email campaign, for example,” she says.

SmartCompany contacted the Hougoumont Hotel for comment but did not receive a response prior to publication.


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