Honey Birdette back in trouble with Ad Standards, found in breach three times

Lingerie brand, Honey Birdette has again been found to have breached the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) Code of Ethics for three separate advertisements.

The three separate advertisements, one being a social campaign, and two different posters were deemed to breach the code on two sections, including Section 2.6: “Advertising shall not depict material contrary to Prevailing Community Standards on health and safety” and Section 2.4: “Advertising shall treat sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience”.

The brand did not respond to any of the final determinations, however did provide an initial response to the complaints. Ad Standards said it “will continue to work with the relevant authorities regarding this issue of non-compliance.”

Two of the advertisements in question, including the online social campaign (below) and a poster version of the creative, were deemed by the panel to have breached the advertising code for featuring a woman smoking a cigar.

This Facebook advertisement features the caption, “Out of the vault and into reality, the sold-out BELLE collection is back in limited numbers. Be quick honey, this one is in high demand…” The post includes a video of a woman in black lace lingerie smoking a cigar. She pulls on her stockings and there is close up footage of the details on the bra.

The Ad Standards Community Panel (the Panel) noted that the overall impression of the advertisement was aspirational creating a glamorous Western theme. The Panel considered that the images are positive and aspirational and present smoking in a positive light. The Panel noted that smoking of any kind is generally viewed as contravening prevailing community standards.

In a initial response to the multiple complaints against the campaign in posted and social form, the brand said: “Honey Birdette is a luxury lingerie retailer that shows women wearing lingerie in our advertising. It will therefore be difficult for us to please a complainant who believes that showing a woman in sheer lingerie means that she has been ‘sexualised’, ‘objectified’ and is ‘virtually naked’. Our model is sitting in a chair with her legs crossed and a cigar in her mouth. Her nipples are not even visible in our heavily embroidered bra. In this 14 second video, the camera pans swiftly across the products we sell – our lingerie.

“Our model is seen with a cigar in her mouth for two seconds. We do not sell cigars so have no interest in their ‘promotion’ as the complainant suggests. Like the cowboy hat, the cigar was one of the many props used to create our Western-themed campaign. Smoking is also something that can be widely observed in public spaces around Australia on a daily basis. We think it is significant to note that this image was seen by hundreds of thousands of people around Australia (and the world), yet Ad Standards appear to have only received two complaints (apparently from the same complainant given their wording) about the same image in poster form and on Facebook video. Therefore, we do not believe that the broader community shares this complainant’s views.”

The range of complaints varied from 2.2 Exploitative or Degrading, 2.4 Sex/sexuality/nudity, and 2.6 Health and Safety across the three ads.

In another response to a complaint, the brand said: “To assert that picturing a woman with a cigar is automatically suggestive of fellatio is ridiculous, as is the statement that this is image is ‘pornographic’. Clearly it is not. Anyone could see more skin on show at their local beach.”

The poster version of the western themed ad received similar complaints, with the advertiser’s response also echoing it’s response to the video ad: “Honey Birdette is a luxury lingerie retailer that shows women wearing lingerie in our advertising. Our model in this image is sitting in a chair with her legs crossed and a cigar in her mouth. Her nipples are not even visible in our heavily-embroidered bra.”

Both ads were found to be in breach of Section 2.6 by the Panel, for contravening prevailing community standards with the use of smoking in the creative.

The subject of the third complaint, another poster advertisement, was described as depicting “a woman wearing a blue bra, suspenders and stockings. She is shown from the side, sitting astride an object and leaning forward. Her head is tilted back, her eyes are closed and her mouth is open.”

One complaint made against the ad said: “I object to global porn giant – Playboy – exposing non consenting members of the Australian public – adults and children alike – to its floor-to-ceiling pornified shop
window ads. This corporate has a 70 year history of objectifying and exploiting women and girls. That it continues to do so – via its sex shop chain Honey Birdette’s graphic, sexualised and explicit images – some with the added element of eroticising violence – in our suburbs and cities, is reprehensible.”

In an initial response to the complaint, Honey Birdette said: “This complaint is very light on the detail about any alleged breach, other than the complainant’s subjective view and blanket accusation that our images are “pornthemed”.

The advertiser added: “We refute that our advertising is “porn-inspired”, and do not believe that a reasonable person could seriously compare our images to pornography. The complainant again takes issue with our model’s mouth being open, and suggests that they present as though “engaged in sexual activity”. Our model is riding a mechanical bull in the context of our Western-themed lingerie campaign, and is obviously not engaged in sexual activity.”

In considering the complaints and the advertiser’s response, the Panel found that the poster “did not treat sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience” and thus was in breach of Section 2.4 of the Code.

It is the latest breach of Ad Standards that Honey Birdette has not responded to, with breaches of Ad Standards in November and in October also for sexuality.

In July, Honey Birdette was found to be in breach of Ad Standards and at that time, it responded with “It is never our intent to create controversy and they couldn’t be further away from being ‘porn’ style videos. We are a company run by woman, for women, who believe firmly in female empowerment.”

The ad remained visible on the brand’s Facebook page as of 6 May 2022.


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