The Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) has ruled that recent social media advertising campaigns by Bendon and Mossimo encouraging people to take and upload photographs of themselves in their underwear are in breach of the Advertiser Code of Ethics.  Concerns were raised that such promotions could encourage "sexting".

The ASB administers the national system of self-regulation of the advertising industry. Members of the public can lodge complaints with the ASB, who in turn, adjudicates the complaint in accordance with various advertising codes such as the Advertiser Code of Ethics ("Code").  The ASB’s decision may require modification or discontinuance of a campaign.

So what’s all the fuss about?

Bendon’s "Loveable Besties" campaign featured Australian supermodel Jennifer Hawkins and her model "bestie" taking self-portraits in Bendon’s new range of brightly coloured undies.  The Facebook advertisement added the caption "Take Selfies with Lovable Besties to Win Weekly Lovable Prizes".  The Facebook "Selfie Gallery" featured women with their "besties" – all fully clothed adults, mainly comprising head shots.

As the Board noted, the advertisement was intended to be an interactive way of engaging with target consumers, identified by Bendon as women over the age of 13 years, and used language that was intended to appeal to teenagers (the tagline reading, "And NO, you don’t have to be in your undies…obvs").

One complainant felt that the campaign was "encouraging young girls to take photos of themselves in their underwear and post it on the internet" and was "encouraging young females to use social media irresponsibly and even dangerously".

The Board agreed and found that the advertisement breached section 2.6 of the Code, which requires that "Advertising or Marketing Communications shall not depict materials contrary to Prevailing Community Standards on health and safety". 

Inviting participants to "take selfies with loveable besties", was thought to be encouraging young women to uploading of images of themselves in their underwear to the internet.

A social media promotion precedent?

The Board referred to its decision to uphold a complaint against a Mossimo Facebook advertisement which encouraged entrants (over 16 years of age) to "check out Miss Universe Australia in her own Mossimo Peep Show".  Contestants were then encouraged to upload photographs of themselves in their underwear and "create their own peepshow" by placing a "peephole" template frame around each picture.

The Board found that visitors to the website would consider the advertisement to be encouraging people, including young teenagers, to practice sexting – that is, uploading explicit photographs to the internet or sending those images via mobile phones – in breach of 2.6 of the Code.

The Board referred to ACMA and its Cybersmart website as an authority on "Prevailing Community Standards on health and safety" and the significant social concern around appropriate online behaviour.  Significantly, ACMA notes that sexting and uploading provocative photos of persons under the age of 18 may be a criminal offence.

It seems that concern around online behaviour, and particularly uploading and tagging photos that are provocative or posted by people under the age of 18, means that images which may be appropriate for a print campaign may be unsuitable for an interactive social media promotion on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Lessons in uploading – your next social media campaign

Speaking to Smart Company, KWM Partner John Swinson stated:

“because the internet is so pervasive and Facebook covers a wide demographic, advertisers have to be careful because all sorts of people are looking at it and might form different views."

Here are our tips for your next social media campaign:

  1. Advertisements which may be perceived as encouraging young persons to practise sexting are likely to be found to breach community standards.
  2. Terms and conditions of a social media campaign are not determinative of whether an advertisement breaches the Code.  Including terms such as "entries cannot be obscene, indecent, illegal or in bad taste", reserving your rights to remove inappropriate content or requiring a parent’s permission, are not determinative.
  3. It is reasonable to expect that advertising will feature your product and such advertisements may use sexual appeal, provided that it is not exploitative or degrading (see Code 2.4).  Both the Loveable Besties and Mossimo Facebook pages were found to have complied with Code 2.4 (but in breach of Code 2.6 on community standards on health and safety).
  4. An advertisement encouraging people to upload photos of themselves is not of itself problematic – however where such images are sexualised or provocative, these are likely to cross the regulatory line.