The ASA has today announced that it has banned a recent YouTube ad from on the grounds that the ad was irresponsible and was likely to cause serious offence.

The reason for this supposed serious offence: the over-sexualisation of the women in the ad.

The ad began with a woman (wearing black vinyl, high waisted chaps-style knickers) looking over her shoulder at the camera in 'a seductive manner' and continued with a series of other scantily clad women in 'highly sexualised poses'. According to the ASA 'the cumulative effect of the scenes meant that overall, the products had been presented in an overly-sexualised way that invited viewers to view the women as sexual objects'. 

Pretty Little Thing responded to the complaint stating that "they worked hard to promote a positive and healthy body image that was inclusive and empowered women" and that their intention had not been to cause offence. Nevertheless the ASA banned the ad.

Pretty Little Thing are not the first fast-fashion online retailer to have their ad banned for sexualised imagery, Missguided and Boohoo have also recently fallen foul of these rules. Pretty Little Thing also found themselves in hot water over a labelling issue when influencer Molly-Mae Hague was penalised by the ASA for sharing an image of herself wearing a Pretty little Thing coat without notifying viewers of her commercial relationship with the brand.

Back to the ad in question – it strikes me as interesting that an ad aimed at woman has been banned for objectifying women. In its response to the ASA, Pretty Little Thing claimed to support and promote 'diversity through bold and distinctive fashion of all shapes and sizes' but clearly for the ASA this attempt at empowering women fell foul of the brand’s obligation under the CAP code to market responsibly.

Pretty Little Things’ target audience is young women who may welcome the brand’s focus on diversity and empowerment and may not be offended by the content of ad like this – so who is finding the ad offensive? Is there a generational divide here or is the ASA pandering to the more modest in society?

Perhaps this ruling serves as a reminder to all brands that they have a responsibility to take into account the sensibilities (or otherwise) not only of their intended audience but also any other likely viewer of their ads when creating and sharing content.