The Advertising Standards Board has found an advertisement on Shear Ewe Livestock Services’ Facebook page which depicts a man shearing a woman is exploitative and degrading to women.
The decision reinforces the ASB’s finding last month that a Facebook page also serves as an advertisement for a business.
The ASB found Diageo’s Facebook page for Smirnoff vodka was an advertisement and the alcohol giant was responsible for the comments on the page.
Shear Ewe’s advertisement depicts a woman wearing a pink jumpsuit reclining on a chair while a man prepares to shear her as if she were a sheep.
The text reads, “Shear Ewe Livestock Services. Taking the hard work out of hobby farming”.
Shear Ewe has already been hauled before the ASB earlier this year for using the advertisement on mail brochures but then continued to use it on its Facebook page.
A complainant to the ASB said the continued use of the ad on Shear Ewe’s profile page on Facebook was “insulting and an example of self-regulation not working”.
“The ad is sexist, commodifies the woman and demeans her by presenting her as an animal,” the complainant said.
“She is also being held down by the male who is in a position of dominance.”
Shear Ewe argued that it had complied with the ASB’s initial decision to remove the ad from its business flyer and noted that it was not instructed to remove any other advertisement.
Shear Ewe reduced the size of the picture on the Facebook page from the main banner to a small profile picture.
“A very good reason for keeping this picture was to allow the average person to take a look at it and have their own opinion, which did attract a lot of attention,” Shear Ewe argued in its submission to the ASB.
Shear Ewe said the objective of using a woman in the campaign rather than a sheep was to emphasise that there was no danger to the woman and the shearing was well executed, to the extent that you would trust a shearer to cut a tight-fitting thermal garment away from your body.
“Therefore the ASB having common sense should see it as it is light-hearted and humorous, not degrading or demeaning or discriminating,” Shear Ewe argued.
However, the ASB found the advertisement depicts the man in a position of power and the woman in a submissive position.
Its ruling also pointed out that:
“The image depicts the woman in a position in which she is compared to an animal, with a suggestion also of commodification (i.e. that there is, as there is in shearing, many others to be shorn).”
“The representation of the woman as a sheep being shorn was irrelevant to the service advertised.”
“The impact of the advertisement as a whole is exploitative of women and is also degrading.”
The ASB found the advertisement breached the industry’s code and noted Shear Ewe confirmed it would remove the image from its Facebook page as soon as it could.
The owner of Shear Ewe, Cory Thompson, told SmartCompany he would not take the ad down until he received a hard copy of the ASB determination.
“The ABS has telephoned me but I’ll be pulling it down when I’ve got the mail, at the moment I don’t have internet access anyway,” he says.
Thompson says the initial determination only applied to a flyer and he is continuing to use the advertisement in other ways.
“The initial complaint about it was for the flyer, not for Facebook. They are not taking a case against every logo I’ve got,” he says.
“I still use the logo on my business cards at the moment but once my business cards are used up I’m going to be working with a graphic designer to design a new logo.”
John Swinson, partner at King & Wood Mallesons, told SmartCompany the decision reinforces ASB rulings that Facebook pages can be an advertising medium.
Swinson says the ABS ruling is not a surprise because if you have a ruling that says an advertisement is inappropriate and you take the ad away but leave it on your Facebook page, it is still going to be inappropriate advertising.
“It shows a misunderstanding that the law in relation to online activities is different to traditional mediums,” he says.
“It is a common misconception that the law does not apply to cyberspace.”
In fact, Swinson argues businesses have to be more wary of advertisements on Facebook than on mediums such as newspapers and flyers.
“You have to be more careful on Facebook than traditional advertising because it potentially has a wider audience, Facebook is available to more people in more geographical locations,” Swinson says.
“What might be acceptable for putting in a flyer in a mailbox in Melbourne might not be acceptable in an advertisement in Indonesia or Singapore, it’s actually more complicated online,” he says.