Pretty Scandalous: Pretty Little Thing ads deemed to be “over-sexualised”

March 16, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

Clothing retailer Pretty Little Thing (PLT) had its YouTube adverts banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the UK advertising watchdog. The campaign was deemed to be “socially irresponsible” and to objectify and “over-sexualise” women.

What does this mean?

The ad, which ran in October last year, depicted women in transparent clothing in “highly sexual” poses and was, conversely, aimed at women. Its target audience had in fact been used by PLT as a defence to the allegations of promoting an objectifying outlook. The retailer stated the ad promoted “a healthy body image that was inclusive and empowered women”. However, the ASA considered the “cumulative effect of the scene” presented women as a sexual object, as opposed to empowering them. 

This is not the first time PLT has run into issues with the watchdog. In 2017, one of its ads was banned for portraying a model who appeared to be under 16 in a “sexually suggestive” manner. Moreover, it seems there is widespread tension between fashion retailers and the ASA. Last year, PLT`s parent company Boohoo faced a similar ban for an email advert featuring the message “Send Nudes”. Rival retailer Missguided saw its ads on video-streaming websites discontinued for similar reasons.

What's the big picture effect?

The recent surge in ad bans highlights a worrying trend in online advertising. It showcases the thin line between objectification and empowerment, depending on the subjective perception of the audience. As the BBC noted, younger audiences seem to take a more positive stance, viewing these ads as positive images of women being body-confident. Yet, it has also been revealed in recent research by the BBC that online-only retail companies are more likely to push the boundaries between the two. 

It is unlikely that such decisions will change the trend in creating provocative ads, but it is worth noticing that regulators take a strong stance on the phenomenon, making it likely we will see a surge in similar decisions.

Report written by Bogdan Ciacli

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