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Law
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Board desicion

The presence of advertising billboards along major roads has become increasingly common: some advertise face creams, others strip clubs. There can be any number of them that advertise the adult entertainment industry, and their location is not necessarily limited to main roads in business areas. “Sometimes they can be found in residential areas,” observes Brent Botha of Deneys Reitz, “to the dismay of the locals.”
The Advertising Standards Authority recently considered two complaints against the content of billboards that were advertising strip clubs. One complaint was upheld but the other dismissed.
The billboard that passed muster advertised the ‘Lollipop Lounge’. It featured a woman wearing a bathing suit, leaning against a car with her buttocks exposed, holding a lollipop in her hand. The billboard’s pay-off line read, “Come Treat your Lolli”.
Before the Directorate, the complainants alleged that the advertisement was offensive in that it exploited, demeaned, and objectified the depicted woman and that the billboard’s location exposed young children to highly sexual content.
In deciding the matter, the Directorate considered complaints in relation to (i) gender, (ii) children and (iii) offensive advertising.
The Directorate first considered whether or not the billboard stereotyped women or negatively portrayed the female gender. “The Code of Advertising Practice does not allow such portrayal unless it is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom,” notes Botha.
The Directorate acknowledged that there was an inherent degree of objectification of women within the adult entertainment industry, particularly with regard to strip clubs. It recognised, however, that the industry is a legal industry that enjoys constitutionally protected rights to advertise its services. As such, it would have been inappropriate to consider the complaint generally and the Directorate recognised the need to consider the actual content of the advertisement.
The Directorate considered that where nudity was advertised tastefully, asexually and where it is relevant to the plot of the advertising, it did not necessarily equate to gender stereotyping. It was acknowledged further that sexuality and mode of dress in advertisements were product-relevant to the adult entertainment industry and, as such, a model in a bathing suit was not demeaning. In the particular advertisement, the model did not appear to be distraught or coerced. In circumstances where a model makes an autonomous choice to participate in an advertisement, there can be no suggestion that she was exploited, objectified or demeaned. As such, the billboard alone could not be seen to demean or objectify women and accordingly did not contravene the relevant clause of the Code.
The second consideration related to the harm and exploitation of children. The Directorate recognised that a billboard of this nature should be carefully placed so that children were not exposed to it. The billboard in question was placed at a busy intersection of a business area. It featured a woman clothed in a bathing suit with her buttocks exposed through a thong. To a child, the Directorate held, the image would be construed simply as one of a woman in a bathing suit (something that they would have seen on a beach) and it was accordingly not thought to be overtly suggestive so that children would be harmed.
In considering whether or not the billboard amounted to offensive advertising, Botha said the Directorate considered and accepted that strip clubs carried on a legitimate business – even though it may not be desirable to large sections of the community. It held that the Lollipop Lounge cannot be penalised simply because people found its business offensive. The complaint was dismissed.
Botha says a similar complaint against the Teazers restaurant was also recently considered. “The billboard in this instance depicted a pair of hands holding a pair of woman’s breasts dressed in a lacey bra with the wording ‘load shedding at Teazers’
“The complainants said that the billboard had been placed near a school and that the advertisement was degrading to women. Similar considerations applied as before.”
What distinguished the two determinations was that the Teazers’ billboard showed neither the woman’s head nor her lower body and, as such, effectively disembodied her. “The model was dismembered to show only her sexual parts, which thereby equated the value of women to that of sexual objects,” he explained. “The billboard was found to objectify and exploit the female body and the complaint was upheld.”
Botha notes that it appears from a consideration of the Directorate’s rulings that our pavements will continue to be adorned by suggestive billboards as long as the advertisers are able sufficiently to take cognisance of the requirement not to expose overtly sexual connotations to young children, to tastefully advertise the adult entertainment industry and not to objectify women.
“They will achieve this by carefully choosing the location of their billboards and by avoiding the temptation of too suggestive a pay-off line,” he says. “This will continue to anger many who find these billboards in their suburbs.
“The advertisers are however likely to take heed of the Directorate’s recognition of the legality of the adult entertainment industry and its constitutionally protected right to advertise its services.”

Copyright © Insurance Times and Investments® Vol:21.10 1st November, 2008
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