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Paco Rabanne escapes ASA ban despite 120 complaints over ‘sexist’ ad

A TV spot touting a Paco Rabanne fragrance has dodged an Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ban after the watchdog received 120 complaints concerning its treatment of men and women.

The 60-second commercial was created by French creative shop Mazarine for Paco Rabanne’s parent firm Puig. It depicted model Francisco Henriques undressing in a bathroom while observed in secret by a group of female fans, amid a modern remix of Bizet’s Habanera.

While some members of the public suggested that the spot depicted the male character as the subject of voyeurism, others believed that the ad was sexist in its depiction of the female observers, who were allegedly shown to be “powerless and weak”.

A third segment of complainants objected to the timing and placement of the ad, which was broadcast on Channel 4 during a break in the popular reality show spin-off Gogglesprogs.

The ASA dismissed the complaints, however, on the grounds that the spot’s fantastical, comedic and surreal setting, as well as the ambiguous nature of whether the male character consented to being watched, meant that the ad was unlikely to cause offence.

Commenting on the ad’s close emphasis on the physique of the male character, the watchdog ruled: “We considered the ad showed the male character’s attractiveness in a light-hearted, humorous way, rather than in a degrading or humiliating manner. We therefore considered viewers were likely to recognise the ad was a comical dramatisation of a surreal situation.” The ruling went on to conclude that the treatment of female characters was similarly in line with the spot’s exaggerated and comic aims.

For its part, Paco Rabanne, stated that its brand often “presented an exaggerated, highly stylized and fantastical world through all of its campaigns,” and that “its audience had become accustomed to its ongoing humour and challenges between the sexes, empowering both men and women equally.”

The perfume brand described the content of the spot as “a game of attention,” between an Adonis and admirers, in which both male and female characters exhibited “a very high state of awareness” of their status and power.

The ruling comes amid ongoing changes from the ASA and its sister organisation, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) to moderate the way brands depict gender stereotypes.

The new standards were handed down last year to ensure fairer representation across the board, and will come into force in 2018.