The campaign, sent by pitchcare.com on behalf of horticultural equipment company Etesia UK, stated “Meet the Etesia Calendar Girls at Saltex! …at the NEC Birmingham”.
It included a picture of two pouting women wearing cut-off shorts, leaning on a motorised lawnmower. A second picture, linked to an embedded video in the email, showed the same women in their underwear with one woman holding a hedge trimmer.
In the video, the women were shown posing on or near horticultural equipment in either their underwear or bikinis, or with their tops removed, although still wearing bras.
Two scenes featured the women, sitting on a lawn mower wearing tops, high heel shoes and brief underpants, which revealed their buttocks. The camera zoomed into the buttock area before moving upwards.
The women, both wearing skimpy underwear, appeared together on the lawn mower, one sitting with the other standing behind her, which emphasised the standing model’s groin area, before the camera panned out. Towards the end of the video one of the models was briefly seen adjusting her breasts and at the end of the video the women blew kisses at the camera.
One recipient was far from impressed, however, and rifled off a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority, challenging whether the images in the email were offensive, because they were sexist and objectified women.
For its part, the ASA took it upon itself to investigate the embedded video, believing it too was sexually suggestive and objectified women.
In its defence, Etesia said that to ensure the acceptability of the content and the welfare of the models, the production of the calendar and video was carried out by an entirely female team.
Etesia UK believed neither image was sexist and pointed out that the second image had been used by 17 trade publications in non paid-for editorial articles and had also been used by one magazine as their front cover. It added that it was not unusual for marketing communications of this type to be used in their industry.
However, the ASA remain unconvinced by these arguments, ruling that showing the women in their underwear while using gardening equipment for no other reason than a calendar shoot, presented the women as sexual objects.
Meanwhile it also considered that the video was likely to be seen as objectifying, and therefore demeaning to, women.
Banning the ad on the grounds of both harm and offence, the regulator warned Etesia about its future activity.
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