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Sexualised shaving ad banned by ASA

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In these supposedly enlightened times, it's rare for an ad to provoke a significant moral outcry, at least to the extent that it gets pulled from existence. It happened earlier this year, of course, with the woeful ad that saw Kendall Jenner solve a seemingly insurmountable conflict with a can of Pepsi, but that ad wasn't actually banned, it was simply pulled by the brand itself due to the torrents of (deserved) outrage spewed by the general public on social media and beyond. The latest spot to fall under the great weight of public opinion, however, has earned itself a legitimate outright ban from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

The ad in question (see for yourselves below) was for the female shaving brand Femfresh, and featured several women in various state of undress dancing with a few close-up crotch shots engineered to illustrate the effectiveness of the product in cutting close to the bikini line. The ASA received 17 complaints that the ad objectified women and portrayed them in an overly sexualised manner and it was pulled immediately, with the ruling that it must “not appear again in its current form.”

The ASA said: “Even taking into account the nature of the product, we considered that it had been presented in an overly sexualised way that objectified women. We concluded that the ad was likely to cause serious or widespread offence and therefore breached the code. We told Church & Dwight not to use advertising that objectified women and which was likely to cause serious or widespread offence to promote their products.”

Frankly, it looks, sounds like a typical modern pop music video, albeit with little more subtlety. So, my question is this; what makes this spot so offensive and socially irresponsible, when most modern pop videos pull exactly the same tricks and are hailed as champions of untethered female sexuality? Why is a bikini line shaver being advertised by women in bikinis seen as offensive?

The real argument here, of course, should be that the advert is aimed directly at women, not men. Church & Dwight UK, which owns the brand, have said themselves that the ad was aimed at a target audience of women aged 18 to 34, and added that the dance sequence was choreographed by a female choreographer and featured moves regularly performed during dance warm-ups, yoga, Pilates and other forms of exercise. They also claimed that close-up shots were used to illustrate that the product could give consumers a smooth bikini line. This seems perfectly reasonable to me. Indeed, neither Channel 4 or ITV, who first played the ad through their on-demand services earlier this year, received any complaints about the advert directly, and both agreed with the comments made by Church & Dwight that it did not objectify women.

Yes the ad itself is pretty poor, but it served a purpose. It underlined the brand message and illustrated the effectiveness of the product. The only other obvious way anyone could have handled the brief would be to go the comedy route, but that would surely have run the risk of feeling condescending? This whole debacle raises one very interesting question though; does the ASA have too much power? It seems frankly bizarre to me personally that 17 complaints could result in an ad being wiped from existence. What are your thoughts on the ad itself and the subsequent fallout? Please let me know in the comments below.

Benjamin Hiorns is a freelance writer and musician from Kidderminster in the UK. His opinions are his and his alone.

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