Modern Marketing Brand Safety

ASA warns Pretty Little Thing not to sexualize teen models after Alabama Barker ads

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By Dani Gibson | Senior Writer

August 9, 2022 | 5 min read

Fast-fashion retailer, Pretty Little Thing, has once again been warned by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for sexualizing its models, this time teen influencer, Alabama Barker, daughter of Blink 182 drummer and Kourtney Kardashian's stepdaughter, is at the center of the dispute.

Pretty Little Things

ASA warns Pretty Little Thing not to sexualize teen models after Alabama Barker ads

The campaign in question saw the 16-year-old (at the time of the shoot) brand ambassador featured on the retailer's website along with her clothing collection, 'Y2K Edit'. Here she modeled a collection called 'Y2K is Calling'.

Barker was posed in various positions deemed sexual by the watchdog with one product page stating: “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 complainant accused the ad of portraying someone under 18 in a sexual way. Pretty Little Thing said it chose the teen because its customer base is primarily between 16 and 24 years old. The campaign was based on the Y2K trend which is popular with this audience. The retailer also stated that it "did not intend to sexualize Ms Barker and disagreed that she was portrayed in a sexual manner.

"All creative was approved by Ms Barker and her team, and she was posed in a similar style to images that could be seen on her own Instagram account. The images in which Ms Barker was sucking a lollipop were intended as a nod to the Y2K trend and were playful and girly.

"In reference to the images in which Ms Barker could be seen spraying a hose pipe, that they believed cooling down on the lawn on a hot day fitted the intended Y2K aesthetic."

Pretty Little Thing also explained that the use of open-mouth poses is a popular trend with young people on social media, and some of these images were captured whilst Barker was talking to the photographer.

Despite this, the BCAP Code and CAP Code, which the ASA enforces, state that ads must not portray or represent anyone who is, or seems to be, under 18 in a sexual way. The claim was upheld by the ASA and breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules (social responsibility) and (harm and offence).

The ASA stated that she was shown in a number of different outfits and wore "tight-fitting short dresses, a low-cut short dress that revealed her breasts, a corset top, mini skirt, and knee-high boots."

PLT

The ASA also considered the clothing to be revealing and made a point to the fact that Barker wore sunglasses inscribed with the text “THAT’S HOT”, which the ASA considered to be a reference to sexual or passionate feeling.

Various poses were also considered sexual including the image of Barker shown spraying a water hose that was positioned between her legs, which the ASA expressed focuses the eye to her crotch area.

"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 sexualized."

Going forward, the ad must not appear in its current form and Pretty Little Thing must ensure future ads did not include images that portray or represent anyone who was, or seemed to be, under 18 in a sexual manner.

Last year, Pretty Little Thing appointed Love Island contestant and Instagram influencer Molly-Mae Hague as creative director. Celebrity creative directors are back in fashion – is it a good thing?

Meanwhile, the ASA has been cracking down on rule breakers with the recent rise in the number of adverts ruling greenwashing, with 16 advertising campaigns exaggerating brands’ green credentials or making claims that could not be substantiated.

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