Tunnock’s Tea Cakes ad banned for ‘objectifying women’, but Paco Rabanne escapes censure

The ad regulator received complaints for both ads over concerns they “objectified” either men or women, but only the Tunnock’s ad was banned.

Tunnocks Tea Cakes

A Tunnock’s Tea Cakes ad that showed a female tennis player seemingly using a tea cake in place of a tennis ball and with the text ‘Serve up a treat’ has been banned by the advertising regulator for “objectifying women”.

The poster, seen on 6 November, showed a female tennis player holding a tea cake at the top of her thigh with her skirt raised at the hip. Text underneath the image of the woman said ‘Where do you keep yours?’ alongside the slogan ‘Serve up a treat’ under a picture of the product.

While Tunnock’s said it didn’t mean to cause offence, a complainant challenged whether the ad was offensive and irresponsible because it was “sexist” and “objectified women”. And the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) agreed, saying the combination of the image with the phrase ‘serve up a treat’ had the effect of objectifying women by using a woman’s physical features to draw attention to the ad.

“We considered the phrase ‘serve up a treat’ would be understood to be a double entendre, implying the woman featured in the ad was the ‘treat’, and considered this was likely to be viewed as demeaning towards women,” says the ASA in its ruling.

READ MORE: Brands face crackdown on gender stereotypes in advertising

The ad was therefore deemed to be likely to cause serious offence and to be socially irresponsible, so was banned. Tunnock’s has been warned that in future its ads must not objectify women.

However, a Paco Rabanne TV ad that received 120 complaints escaped censure despite concerns that it could objectify men, stereotyped women and was inappropriately scheduled during TV programmes when children could be watching because of its sexual nature.

The ad shows a man walking into a bathroom and removing his suit jacket so he is topless and walking towards a mirror to look at his reflection. He then removes his trousers so he is standing naked and spraying himself with aftershave. A group of women standing behind the one-way mirror become breathless and crowd around to watch, before fainting and collapsing to the ground.

One set of complainants queried whether the ad objectified men because he was the subject of voyeurism, while another set questioned whether it reinforced stereotypes of women because they are depicted as weak and powerless.

However, the ASA found the ad did not break the rules because the scenario depicted was not realistic and the tone was “risqué but comedic and farcical”.

“We considered the ad showed the male character’s attractiveness in a light-hearted, humorous way, rather than in a degrading or humiliating manner. We therefore considered viewers were likely to recognise the ad was a comical dramatisation of a surreal situation,” says the ASA in its ruling.

“While we acknowledged some might find the portrayal of the women in the ads uncomplimentary and distasteful, we noted the reactions of the women were exaggerated and caricaturised, which contributed to the overall comedic tone of the ad. In addition, because the setting of the ads was unrealistic and highly stylised, we considered viewers were likely to recognise that the ads portrayed the women in a farcical manner, which was removed from reality.”

The ASA therefore deemed that the ads were unlikely to cause widespread harm or offence.

Brands are facing a crackdown on how they portray gender and stereotypes in advertising as the ASA gets set to introduce “tougher guidelines” aimed at protecting children from restrictive gender norms. That includes ads that mock people for not conforming to gender stereotypes, ads that objectify or sexualise people and ones that could impact body image.

The new rules are expected to be introduced later this year.



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  1. Nick Turner 9 Feb 2018

    “However, the ASA found the ad did not break the rules because the scenario depicted was not realistic and the tone was “risqué but comedic and farcical”. If we could get over ourselves could this not also be said of the Tunnock’s Tea Cakes ad?

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