London’s new mayor Sadiq Khan has made the surprising move of banning all ‘sexist’ advertising from the city’s public transport system.
The prohibition followed outrage at an advertising campaign featuring a thin woman in a bikini with the message “Are you beach body ready?”, which triggered hundreds of complaints and a social media revolt.
“As the father of two teenage girls, I am extremely concerned about this kind of advertising, which can demean people, particularly women, and make them ashamed of their bodies,” Mr Khan told the media on Tuesday
“It is high time it came to an end. Nobody should feel pressurised, while they travel on the Tube or bus, into unrealistic expectations surrounding their bodies, and I want to send a clear message to the advertising industry about this.”
An advertising expert told The New Daily that while the move was a step in the right direction for advertisers, there were better ways to go about it than an all-out ban.
The ‘beach body’ backlash
Last year, Protein World’s ‘Beach Body’ advertising campaign backfired spectacularly.
Using the message “Always beach body ready”, women stripped off in front of the billboards in protest and tens of thousands signed an online petition against the ads.
The billboards, plastered all over London’s Tube system, were also defaced with messages such as “not OK” and “F*** you sexist s***” by angry consumers.
Australian model Renee Somerfield, who featured in the ad, defended the brand.
“Protein World’s intention is to motivate and inspire their consumers to be the best, healthiest and fittest version of themselves,” she told News.com.au in 2015.
The Australian appetite
Dr Richard Gruner, assistant professor in marketing at the University of Western Australia, said the move wasn’t particularly radical and would probably be accepted by the average Australian.
“I think we could go further,” he said. “Banning is one way, declaring is another.”
Dr Gruner argued advertisers should be forced to declare when a model was excessively photoshopped to prevent consumers falling into the trap of “unhealthy” images that “over-promised”.
“The effect ads have is quick, cumulative and subconscious. Even if you say you don’t care, you probably do, deep down,” he said.
Dr Gruner said historical examples of how advertising rules have changed proves getting rid of sexist advertising is more than possible.
“Fifty years ago it was standard to see ads for cigarettes, and Coca Cola once claimed your child’s brain needed sugary drinks in its formative years.”