The image of woman objectification in advertising is no longer compliant as well as fashionable

In the context of modern advertising, especially in the countries of the old continent and in the fashion market, the image of women has been severely challenged. This is a tricky topic with multiple socio-cultural, economic and political implications. Advertising is often accused of crossing the limits, with the risk of reducing the female image to a stereotyped object of mere commercial persuasion, also able to affect customers’ actions.

In Italy woman is, first of all, valued and protected within the context of the constitution which prohibits gender discrimination (i.e. articles 3 and 37).

Moreover, the Italian Code of Advertising Self-Discipline (the “Code”) represents the regulatory basis of advertising. Pursuant to articles 9 and 10 of the Code, advertising:

  • shall not include statements or representations of physical or moral violence or such that, according to consumers’ opinion, should be considered offensive, rude or obscene;
  • shall not be offensive with respect to moral, civil and religious conditions;
  • shall respect the person’s dignity in all its forms and expressions and avoid all kind of discrimination, including gender discrimination.

The Institute of Advertising Self-Discipline (the “Institute”) ensures advertising compliance – inter alia – with the above mentioned provisions.

In the event of non-compliant advertising, the Institute takes action both ex officio and upon online complaint and might adopt measures in a very short time (i.e. 8-12 days). At the end of a preliminary investigation, the Institute might issue an injunction order, requesting the immediate termination of not compliant advertising diffusion. The recipient of the provision may eventually oppose the injunction order.

Recently, the Institute had the chance to intervene against one of the most famous and exclusive Italian fashion brands (the “Brand”). During an advertising campaign aimed to promote a new collection of haute couture, the Brand used the image of a woman immobilized on the ground, held by the wrists from a man while surrounded by a group of men watching at her in a strong questionable attitude subjected to misleading interpretations. The advertising campaign immediately caused a public debate and the Institute issued an injunction order claiming violation of articles 9 and 10 of the Code and requesting its immediate termination. As per the Institute’s injunction decree, in such context woman was represented as “a mere object of male prevarication”, offensive to her dignity. The injunction decree was not challenged by the Brand. This confirms a growing common awareness and a stronger sensitivity of the Italian fashion market on the relevant advertising implications linked to the above mentioned issues. Today we could indeed affirm that advertising campaigns that might objectify woman image are not compliant under the Code as well as no longer “fashionable”.

By Pierluigi Vingolo and Luisa De Florio

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