An ad campaign for an online dating site, which appeared to exploit the plight of Ukrainian women during the Russian invasion by urging men to “meet thousands” of lonely females from the country has been banned after being branded “titillating”, “insensitive” and “highly offensive”.
Three online display ads for SofiaDate ran in May 2022; the first ad, seen on the Dorset Echo’s website, featured an image of a woman on a balcony with text that stated “Ukranian [sic] Women. Meet Thousands of Lonely Ukrainian Women. Forget About Loneliness. Let Yourself be Happy”.
The second and third ad, seen on Scottish newspaper The National’s website, featured the same image as the first ad with text that stated “Ukranian [sic] Women. Connecting Singles Across the World to Their Ideal Partner…”.
However, three complainants, who felt the ads were inappropriate in the context of the ongoing war in Ukraine, challenged the Advertising Standards Authority whether they were offensive.
SofiaDate owner Astrasoft Projects said it had removed the ads and would check other advertising to ensure it complied with the advertising code.
However, Newsquest Media Group, which owns both the Dorset Echo and The National was not quite so chastened; it initially defended the ads as “ostensibly conventional dating ads, although potentially clumsily sexist in their portrayal of women from a male perspective”.
The company argued that the ads did not refer to the war in Ukraine, were not partisan, and were also not unsympathetic towards Ukrainian women or the Ukrainian people in general.
However, on reflection it said the ads could be inconsistent with its policy of refusing ads for prostitution and trafficking, and confirmed the spots had since been removed from its newspapers, and that it would block the advertiser from the Newsquest network.
In its ruling, the ASA said that it understood that due to the ongoing war in Ukraine there was heightened sensitivity about references to the country, and the vulnerability of Ukrainian women had become an area of public concern.
At the time the ads were seen, the UK Government had initiated a scheme that encouraged members of the public and other organisations to house Ukrainian refugees. The ASA said the scheme had raised valid concerns about the safety and wellbeing of single Ukrainian women who were involved in it.
The watchdog added: “We considered that the women depicted in the ads were shown in a way that was, at least partly, designed to titillate readers; one model wore a low-cut kimono-style robe, the other wore a body-hugging midi dress.
“We considered the ads’ focus on Ukrainian women dressed in the [this] manner, as well references to their loneliness, had the effect of highlighting their vulnerability and connecting it to their sexual appeal. For that reason, we concluded the ads were likely to cause serious offence.
Banning SofiaDate from running the ads again, it warned the firm to ensure future advertising did not contain anything that was likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
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