Should our arbiter of advertising standards, the ASA, have denied American Apparel the oxygen of publicity by ignoring its latest advertising provocation?
After all Vice, the free magazine in which the offending ad appeared, is a minority interest targeting 18 to 34 year-olds – with an estimated UK circulation of only 80,000. Controversy, as the title suggests, is inherent in its nature. Sample of content: The Vice Guide to Shagging Muslims.
Arguably all that the ASA has done by banning AA’s ad is bring it to a much wider audience. With the result that the “class unisex Flex Fleece zip hoody, now available in nearly 20 colours” – which young Ryan so fetchingly sports on her otherwise scantily-clad body – will fly off the shelves as never before.
This is a damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t situation for the regulator. American Apparel is a sophisticated advertiser adept at leveraging the rules to its own advantage. As I pointed out in a previous post, its colourful owner Dov Charney has taken a leaf out of the Oliviero Toscani/Benetton book of studied controversy, dedicated to garnering acres of free publicity.
The ASA banned AA’s ad on the grounds that the model in question, appeared “young and vulnerable and the (ad) could be seen to sexualise a child.” In fact, Ryan (real name, apparently) is 23 years old – even if she has been made up to look as if she is going on 15. Then again, the ASA – while condemning the sequence of images in the ad as “provocative with the model exposing progressively more skin in each photo of the series” also had to concede that the actual amount of nudity in the ad did not breach the advertising code. Which somewhat weakened its ruling.
Nevertheless, not to ban the ad could be construed as a sign of weakness or sloppiness on the part of the watchdog. In either case, it would have encouraged a recidivist like Dov Charney to greater acts of derring-do. The only way to deal with calculated trangressors like this is to toughen the code and make the penal sanctions much nastier.