An Adidas advertising campaign has been banned by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) who determined that three sports bra advertisements breached two rules in the CAP code.  Adidas defended the imagery, maintaining that they are proud of the message.

The complaint centered on a tweet and two poster adverts which contained a series of photographs of bare breasts in a grid format, with one poster featuring similar images, but with the nipples pixelated, prompting 24 complaints to the ASA that the ads were gratuitous, harmful and offensive and unsuitable to be seen by children.  Upholding the complaints, the ASA instructed Adidas not to show the ads again.

The tweet showed the bare breasts of 20 women, identically cropped between the shoulders and the navel.  The accompanying caption read:

We believe women’s breasts in all shapes and sizes deserve support and comfort. Which is why our new sports bra range contains 43 styles, so everyone can find the right fit for them. Explore the new adidas sports bra collection at [LINK]. #SupportIsEverything”.

One poster ad showed cropped images of bare breasts of 62 women, captioned: “The reasons we didn’t make just one new sports bra” and the other showed the same text and images of the breasts of 64 women with nipples pixelated.

The ASA received 24 complaints which largely focused on two issues: (i) the view that the use of nudity was gratuitous and objectified women by sexualising them, with complainants also challenging whether they were harmful and offensive; and (ii) whether the poster ads were appropriate for display where they could be seen by children.

In response, Adidas contended that the images were “intended to reflect and celebrate different shapes and sizes, illustrate diversity and demonstrate why tailored support bras were important.”  They drew attention to the safety of the models, who remained anonymous (as their faces weren’t on show) and noted that the models had volunteered to be in the ad and were supportive of its aims. The ad was intending to show breasts “simply as a part of a woman’s body”.  They said that CAP’s Copy Advice team had advised Adidas’ ad agency in the first instance that the images weren’t sexual, while also noting that there was a risk associated with nudity being used in advertising.  Adidas consequently did not place ads near schools or religious venues.

In their assessment, the ASA concluded that they did not consider the way the women were portrayed as sexually explicit or objectified, but that the “depiction of naked breasts was likely to be seen as explicit nudity”. They commented that breasts were the “main focus of the ads, and there was less emphasis on the bras themselves”.

Holding that the poster images were not suitable for use in untargeted media, particularly where they would be seen by children, the ASA found that the ads were “inappropriately targeted” and “likely to cause widespread offence”. Considering Adidas’ Twitter feed, the ASA commented that ordinarily, social media was used to promote sportswear for women and that “explicit nudity was not in keeping with their usual content”. The “explicit nudity” led the ASA to conclude that the ad was ‘likely to cause widespread offence’.

Twitter did not delete the post as it did not consider the ad to be in breach of their Terms of Service.