Imogen Watson
Mar 7, 2024

‘Not afraid to change decisions’: ASA on reversing FKA twigs ‘objectification’ ruling

The ad, however, remains banned for being unsuitable for display in an untargeted medium.

FKA twigs ad: ASA stands by ruling that ad was
FKA twigs ad: ASA stands by ruling that ad was "unsuitable for display in an untargeted medium"

The Advertising Standards Authority council has reviewed and changed part of its ruling on a FKA twigs' poster ad for Calvin Klein that described her as a "stereotypical sexual object" after it felt "unease with the wording."

The ad remains banned for being "overtly sexual" and so unsuitable for display in an untargeted medium.

The move follows backlash from FKA twigs and the public about the watchdog's comments in the initial ruling.

At the time, FKA twigs wrote on Instagram: "I do not see the 'stereotypical sexual object' that they have labelled me. I see a beautiful, strong woman of colour whose incredible body has overcome more pain than you can imagine."

Today, an ASA spokesperson said the change to its ruling has been made "in the context of the significant strength of public feeling, including views expressed by FKA twigs, in response to our findings", but the decision was "driven by our concern that our rationale for banning the ad was substantially flawed."

In an interview with Campaign, the ASA's chief executive Guy Parker said: "We spotted problems with the original ruling on the objectification point, and we needed to clear those up.

"The decision we took in the first ruling in January said the FKA twigs image presented her as a stereotypical sexual object. We got that wrong. We don't think it's doing that. She's presented as confident and in control."

The ASA initially banned the poster ad, which pictured the musician dressed in a denim shirt with the right side of her body exposed, for two reasons: "objectifying" women and appearing on an untargeted medium.

The latter ruling is still in place as the ASA "stuck to its guns" in deciding that the image was overtly sexual and, therefore, unsuitable for display in an untargeted medium.

The ASA decided not to ban two similar ads from the same campaign featuring Kendall Jenner despite complaints that they were displayed in an untargeted medium.

While both images show the model scantily clad, at the time the watchdog ruled that the ads were "likely to be interpreted as an ad for lingerie." In contrast, the FKA twigs ad "used nudity and centred on FKA twigs' physical features rather than the clothing, to the extent that it presented her as a stereotypical sexual object."

"We think there's a material difference between how FKA twigs is presented in the image and how Kendall Jenner is presented in the other two posters," Parker insisted, standing by that ruling.

"While not sexually explicit, FKA twigs is presented in an overtly sexual way, whereas the images of Kendall Jenner are mildly sexual and sexually suggestive."

Parker said the FKA twigs review has not changed the ASA's stereotype rules, which it first implemented in December 2018.

"These judgments are under quite broad rules. They're pretty subjective and they're not easy to arrive at because of that," Parker explained.

"With decisions around harm, offence, stereotyping and objectification, we're trying to reflect societal opinion. But that's difficult when people think differently on these subjects."

Parker said the ASA is conducting a broader review that might lead to changes further down the line.

"In terms of the broader implications behind this decision, we've got an objective to review the threshold that we use for intervening on grounds of offence, and we'll probably look at harm, too. We want to prioritise only the most serious cases," he said.

"My personal opinion is there may be a rule change... there may not be. But I suspect if there isn't a rule change at the end of this broader review, we will tell the industry what we think and plan to do."

Parker said the ASA will be "more careful" with using the term "stereotypical sexual object" in future.

"The decision-making process we've gone through will be very much in the back of our minds when making similar decisions on objectification in the future," he said.

At the time of the ad ban, some commentators speculated whether the ASA's decision was peppered with racism, double standards and misogyny because of its decision not to ban Jenner's ad. It wasn't helped by actor Jeremy Allen White's viral Calvin Klein underwear campaign, which launched around the time of the ruling.

FKA twigs' Instagram post accused the watchdog of "double standards". She wrote: “In light of reviewing other campaigns, past and current of this nature, I can’t help but feel there are some double standards here.” 

Parker categorically denies all allegations against the ASA. 

“There was criticism at the time about racial double standards because FKA twigs is brown and Kendall Jenner is white,” he said. “You won’t be surprised to hear me say that didn’t affect our thinking. We were looking at the degree of sexuality in the images, taking into account that it was not targeted.” 

On Allen White’s Calvin Klein campaign, Parker recalled: “The ads broke at the same time as we published. We hadn’t seen the campaign when we were investigating this case and taking this decision.”  

He said the ASA hasn’t received any actionable complaints and therefore will not perform an investigation. 

“When we asked the ASA council to look again at the revised ruling, we did show them the Jeremy Allen White ads to provide context,” he recalled. “This is not a formal ASA decision, but I think it’s safe to say it’s unlikely they break our rules.” 

He explained: “It’s the context of the ads. Some of the UK ads appeared on posters but weren’t complained about. He’s advertising underpants. That’s a factor when it comes to the sort of images that we know people are comfortable with seeing. The nature of the product is a factor in what people think is OK or not.” 


Campaign UK

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