Marketing

Stark raving: Viewers keep complaining about nude advertising but Ad Standards Board dismisses concerns

Kirsten Robb /

The Advertising Standards Board has dismissed a fresh round of complaints against Aussie advertisers who promote their products with a flash of flesh, finding none of the ads objected to breach their code.

While in the last month the watchdog has upheld complaints made against a racist air conditioner ad, a violent telco ad and false claims about the origin of yoghurt, the board dismissed a series of complaints relating to gratuitous nudity.

One of these commercials, an ad for Rosken Intensive Moisture Body Lotion by cosmetic manufacturer Pharmacare Laboratories, showed a naked women sitting on the ground with her arms wrapped around her knees.

The ad provoked the ire of one viewer, who deemed the material “pornographic”.

“Why does the woman need to be posing in this way?” said the complainant.

“Could your Board PLEASE do something about the ever encroaching nudity on magazines/billboards?”

But the advertising watchdog agreed with the submission from Pharmacare, which argued the female model was not sexualised or sexually suggestive in the image.

Another viewer was put off by an ad by photography business Damien Bredberg Stills + Motion, which depicted a naked man sitting on a scooter.

“Photos of naked people in public is offensive!” said the complainant.

“Especially when you are following the van down a main road stopping at all the lights. It’s in your face and don’t need much imagination! I had to tell my young girls to look out their windows.”

But the Ad Standards Board again found the pose of the man was not sexualised, there was no sexual suggestion in the ad and the level of nudity was not inappropriate for an audience that would include children.

Damien Bredberg Stills + Motion responded to the viewer, saying the image had previously won Bredberg the title “Australian Editorial Photographer of the Year”.

“We were very surprised to receive this complaint as this image was originally created in 2003 and since that time has been used in various mediums in both within Australia and around the world,” said the photography company.

“After all these years and countless feedback this is the first time nudity has been raised.”

Lauren Rosewarne, a senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne and an expert on sexuality and gender in advertising, told SmartCompany nudity in advertising is commonly complained about to the board. 

“There is a section in code about the gratuitous use of nudity, so it doesn’t seem surprising that it is commonly complained about,” says Rosewarne.

Rosewarne agrees there is a common perception the Ad Standards Board is a “toothless tiger”, but she says the increasing power of social media is now allowing viewers to sidestep the board’s complaints process to protest against the use of nudity directly with a company.

“Most people don’t ever actually do anything about an ad complaint, other than saying to a friend ‘I didn’t like that’. But social media actually encourages us to do something about it,” she says.

“It’s actually probably a more efficient way for it to happen.”

Rosewarne says the recent Woolworths Anzac Day campaign is an example of how quickly companies are now forced to act on complaints about advertising or marketing.

“By the time a complaint gets to the Ad Board, the jury has already given the verdict,” she says.

“You could argue this is a good thing for democracy, but the flipside is we see a lot of kneejerk reaction – and squeaky wheels don’t necessarily reflect the majority.”

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Kirsten Robb

Kirsten Robb is a former journalist at SmartCompany. Previously, she worked at News Corp as a property reporter for Leader Newspapers and the Herald Sun, and holds a Masters of Journalism at Melbourne University.

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