Intelligent or Indecent? Great Britain Bans Two “Gratuitous” American Apparel Ads

The latest in an ongoing series of the company's scandalous ads

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American Apparel via Refinery29

When does scintillating become tasteless? The British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has deciding to draw that line in the sand, upholding two complaints against ads by American Apparel on its company website and calling them “gratuitous” and guilty of sexually objectifying women, according to WWD.

The complaints asserted that the “Bodysuits and Thigh-Highs” ad and a sweater ad were voyeuristic and made the women pictured appear vulnerable—laying on beds alone, scantily clothed and in poses usually reserved for sexts or other private forums. The ads, hardly rated-G, put little emphasis on the wares; the bodysuits spread is a series of six images of a woman photographed only from the chest down, posing suggestively in the leotard and socks. The sweater ads show a woman in an oversized gray turtleneck and apparently no bottoms relaxing on a bed with her legs up. The ASA ruled this one as “likely to cause serious offence” and told American Apparel never to publish them again “in their current form.” It also admonished the clothing line to “ensure their future advertising contained nothing that was likely to cause serious or widespread offence.”

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This ad ban is the third ASA ruling against American Apparel since December, the latest of many public standard troubles for the Los Angeles-based company, and not just with the ASA. Dov Charney, the company’s Canadian-born founder and CEO, has presided over some eyebrow-raising advertising initiatives since the casualwear label launched in 1989. A few of the most notable controversies include:

  • In 2007, American Apparel posted two billboards, one in New York and one in Los Angeles, with an image of Woody Allen’s character from Annie Hall dressed as a Rabbi, posing next to Yiddish text. The billboards were up for only a week, but Allen sued the company for $10 million for using his image. Allen testified in December 2008 that the ads were “sleazy” and “infantile.” The case was settled out of court.
  • In 2008, American Apparel ran online ads that showed a fully topless model. The ads only showed up on two sex-themed blogs, but debuted not long after Charney’s sexual harassment lawsuit, which included allegations that he ran a “hostile” work environment in which he conducted meetings in the nude.
  • In the past, American Apparel has also used pornographic actors in some of its ads and a model came under scrutiny for looking under 16 in 2009. Though American Apparel held that the model was in fact 23, the ASA ruled that the pictures “could be seen to sexualise a model who appeared to be a child.”

A spokesman for the ASA said the bodysuit and sweater ad kerfuffle was “disappointing” because it so closely resembled past breaches of code. He did note that the ASA has a “positive” relationship with American Apparel and the retailer has shown a “willingness” to comply with regulation, according to Marketing Week.

For its part, American Apparel said that it did its best to abide by the standards of the industry as well as “creating authentic, honest and memorable images relevant to their customer base.”