Retailer rapped for sexualising a minor in online ad campaign

PrettyLittleThing's Umar Kamani with ambassadors Stassie, Kylie Jenner and Jordyn Woods

An earlier version of this article conflated the separate ASA judgements against the two retailers, Prettylittlething and American Golf. This has now been clarified to make clear the judgements related to two very different complaints.

Two North West firms have been censured by the Advertising Standards Agency over misleading adverts.

Manchester-based online fashion retailer, Prettylittlething.com, headed by Umar Kamani, has been rapped over sexually provocative material. Separately, a complaint was upheld against Warrington-based golf specialist, American Golf, for not clearly advertising a product subscription package on its website.

The Prettylittlething website featured American actress and social media figure Alabama Barker, along with her ‘Y2K Edit’ clothing collection, on June 1, 2022.

The brand ambassador webpage featured text saying “channel that teen dream realness with barely-there micro mini skirts”. The page also included a series of images of Ms Barker modelling clothing from her edit.

In one image, Ms Barker wore a tight-fitting short dress while sucking a lollipop. Another image featured Ms Barker wearing high heels and a low-cut short dress that revealed her breasts while spraying a water hose. Ms Barker was also shown wearing a dress taking a phone call while lying on a bed and licking her lips. Further images showed Ms Barker in a short V-necked dress clutching her chest with one hand, and posed with her leg bent wearing a mini skirt and knee high boots. An image of an open mouth with the tongue hanging out also featured.

On the product page for the clothing collection text stated, “Nail the latest trends and team a cropped varsity jacket with a mini skirt and knee-high boots for a date with your best dolls or flaunt your curves in a white figure-hugging dress … Alabama Barker is here to make sure you’re feeling confident and looking fierce.”

The page featured several products modelled by Ms Barker. One such image showed Ms Barker wearing a miniskirt, shirt and corset top while reclining on a bed and holding a handbag in the air. Another image featured Ms Barker wearing fluffy hair clips, a white cropped shirt, exposing her midriff, and sunglasses emblazoned with the text “THAT’S HOT”. In another image, Ms Barker wore a mini skirt, vest and cropped jacket while bent forward and clutching her chest.

The complainant, who believed that Alabama Barker was 16-years-old, challenged whether the ad breached the advertising code by portraying someone who was under 18 in a sexual way.

Prettylittlething.com Ltd confirmed Ms Barker was 16-years-old at the time of the ad’s shooting. It said it had chosen Ms Barker as its brand ambassador because its customer base was primarily aged between 16 and 24-years-old. It said the campaign was based on the ‘Y2K’ trend which it said was extremely popular with its target market and which it characterised as girly, colourful, fun and playful.

PrettyLittleThing said it did not intend to sexualise Ms Barker and disagreed that she was portrayed in a sexual manner. It said that all creative was approved by Ms Barker and her team, and that she was posed in a similar style to images that could be seen on her own Instagram account.

It said the images in which Ms Barker was sucking a lollipop were intended as a nod to the Y2K trend and were playful and girly. It said, in reference to the images in which Ms Barker could be seen spraying a hose pipe, that it believed cooling down on the lawn on a hot day fitted the intended Y2K aesthetic.
It said Ms Barker was not asked to clutch her chest for the purposes of the photoshoot, and that in some cases her hands were held up close to the body to hold a jacket in place. It said the use of open-mouth poses was currently popular with young people on social media, and some of these images were captured while Ms Barker was talking to the photographer.

Finally, Prettylittlething said it wanted to convey a message of body positivity to encourage and empower young women to embrace their bodies and inspire confidence.

However, the complaint was upheld by the ASA, which said the code stated that marketing communications must not portray or represent anyone who was, or seemed to be, under 18 in a sexual way.

The ASA said: “We considered the clothing to be revealing. We also noted that Ms Barker wore sunglasses emblazoned with the text “THAT’S HOT”, which we considered to be a reference to sexual or passionate feeling.

“We considered that a number of her poses were also likely to be considered as sexual. In several images, Ms Barker was shown lying on a bed and in one of them she was licking her lips in a sexually suggestive manner. Several of the images in which she was wearing a mini skirt involved Ms Barker crouching down, or bending her leg, which accentuated the prominence of her upper thighs, to the extent that her buttocks were almost visible.

“Furthermore, we noted that in another image Ms Barker was shown spraying a water hose which was positioned between her legs, which we considered focused the eye to her crotch area. In other images, Ms Barker was shown sucking a lollipop and clutching her chest.

“We also considered that the text ‘channel that teen dream realness with barely-there micro mini skirts’ further highlighted Ms Barker’s young age. The references to ‘barely-there micro mini skirts’ were also likely to be seen as sexualised. Given the above, we considered that the ad depicted a person who was under 18 in a sexual way, and we therefore concluded it was irresponsible and breached the code.”

The ASA ruled that the ad must not appear in its current form and told Prettylittlething.com to ensure future ads did not include images that portrayed or represented anyone who was, or seemed to be, under 18 in a sexual manner.

In another complaint, golf equipment retailer American Golf was reprimanded for an advert on its website on December 8, 2021 that advertised an Arccos Caddie Link for £119.99.

Text stated, “The Arccos Caddie Link is a powerful wearable shot tracking device, so you can leave your phone in the bag to play the game your way. The Caddie Link seamlessly links to Arccos Caddie sensors and the Arccos App and automatically records shot data without the need to carry your phone during play”.

The complainant, who purchased the device but who subsequently found that, after an initial free trial, a yearly subscription was needed to access the information, challenged whether the ad was misleading because it did not state that.

American Golf (Trading) Ltd acknowledged receipt of the complaint, but did not provide a substantive response to the ASA’s enquiries.

The complaint was upheld, and the ASA said it considered consumers would understand the ad to mean that, having purchased the device, they could use it to track their score during play. However, while there was an initial free trial, after the trial ended the customer needed to pay a yearly subscription to access the information.

It said: “We acknowledged that American Golf was willing to make changes to their website. Nevertheless, the versions of the ad seen by the complainant and the one being used at time of writing (July 2022) made no mention of the need to pay a subscription to access the data provided by the device.

“Because we considered the need to pay a subscription was likely to influence a consumer’s decision to purchase the device, we concluded that the ad was misleading for not stating that.”

The ASA ruled that the ad must not appear again in its current form and told American Golf to ensure its ads did not mislead by omitting significant information consumers were likely to need before making a decision to purchase – for example, the need to pay a yearly subscription.

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