Over time, my perspective on advertising has changed. Now that I have a teenage daughter, and many of friends have teenage daughters, a few of whom suffer from anorexia, I am no longer frustrated with advertisers that use images of very thin young women to flog their wares. No. Now I'm furious.
So three cheers for the ASA for banning three TV commercials for the fashion brand Nasty Gal, which all featured the same very thin young woman. 22 people complained that she didn't just look thin, but unhealthily thin and therefore that the ads breached the rules on social responsibility.
The brand launched a forensic defence of their ad. They said that the model is a size 8, she's 178cm (5' 10") tall and she weighs 134lbs (60.8 kg) and therefore had a Body Mass Index of 18.8, which they claimed put her "well within" the healthy weight range of the NHS guidelines. In fact, according to the NHS guidelines, a BMI of 18.5 or less is considered underweight, so she was only just on the right side of the line.
Its not clear whether they checked her measurements when they cast her in order to have some plausible deniability in the event of a challenge, or whether they went back to her agent when preparing their response to the ASA.
What is obvious, however, is that Nasty Gal clearly opted to cast a very thin woman in the ad. That was a deliberate choice. No one made them do it. And that was breathtakingly irresponsible.
Nasty Gal also tried to argue that while some viewers may subjectively view the model to be too slender, others would recognise her to be of a healthy appearance, which they asserted was supported by the NHS guidelines (although that claim is wafer thin). In any event, the ASA, was concerned about particular shots of the model that exaggerated her slimness, showing her prominent rib-cage and her long, slim arms.
Going forward, it will be interesting to see whether Clearcast will be more inclined to deny clearance for a finished film that includes a model who appears unhealthily underweight. That will put advertisers and agencies at risk of substantial wasted costs if they cast a model with a low BMI, or who just looks unhealthily thin, and then discover they cannot get approval for the finished ad.
That should give them food for thought.
We considered that the model appeared unhealthily underweight in those scenes and concluded that the ads were therefore irresponsible.