Quite a bit according to the latest rulings by the Advertising Standards Authority.
Whilst the Tom Ford advertisement was described by the ASA as “sensual and sexually suggestive”, the ASA did not consider it to be “sexually explicit” and therefore the complaint that it was “inappropriate for display where children could see it and where it was close to churches and mosques” was not upheld.
The ASA also considered that, contrary to a further complaint, the advertisement was “unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence and that it did not degrade of objectify women.”
The complaint received by the ASA “challenged whether the advertisement was irresponsible and offensive” on the basis that “the image appeared to show a child dressed as an adult in a sexually suggestive pose.” The ASA upheld this complaint and “considered that [the model’s] youthful appearance… could give the impression that the advertisement presented a child in a sexualised way.”
But to what extent was the ASA’s ruling affected by the response of Prada, the parent company of Miu Miu, to the complaint that the model was “shown on crisp white bed sheets”?
When looking at the two advertisements side by side you could easily be forgiven for guessing that it was the Tom Ford image that was held to be inappropriate rather than the Miu Miu image. But the ASA took issue with the combination of the element of suggestive sexuality with the childlike model rather than the sexuality of the image alone.
Take home points
If the complaints about the Tom Ford advertisement had centred on the age of the model would the ASA have assessed it on different grounds? Similarly if the comments about the Miu Miu advertisement had merely focused on its sexual nature would the ASA have upheld the complaint?
The ruling against Miu Miu echoes the ASA’s 2011 decision on Marc Jacobs’ “Oh, Lola!” perfume. Marc Jacobs featured 17 year old Dakota Fanning in its advertisement however the complaints that the young model was “portrayed… in a sexualised manner” were upheld by the ASA which “considered she looked under the age of 16.” Both the Marc Jacobs and the Miu Miu advertisements were held to sexualise a child and were therefore “irresponsible and likely to cause serious offence.”
Through these rulings, the ASA has made clear that, when combined with a sufficiently youthful looking model, even subtle sexuality is a no go. When the advertisement features a model who is obviously over the age of 16 it would appear that the bar for inappropriate sexuality is much higher.