Bye, Honey: getting rid of an objectionable ad

We can’t show you the ad at the centre of this story.

Suffice to say, it comes from the Honey Birdette company that trades on the objectification of women’s bodies to sell lingerie. Read on and you’ll find that this one was probably worse than usual, even for that company.

“We became aware because of a national campaign that Collective Shout had around the Honey Birdette ads,” campaigner Letitia Shelton tells Eternity.

“So I went to our local shopping centre to see if the ads were there in Honey Birdette and, sure enough, they were. The ad was a short clip of a smiling, sexy woman in sexy underwear with a choker collar on and she was pretending to choke herself.”

Collective Shout says: “It’s yet another display of contempt for women and girls by sex shop chain Honey Birdette – which we’ve called out before for eroticising violence against women in its publicly displayed, floor-to-ceiling, bondage and porn-themed ads.”

Shelton followed up.

“My first step was to go into the store. I asked the woman working in there if she was OK about working for a company that promoted and glorified violence against women. She became rather embarrassed and said she didn’t like it but it all came from head office, so there is nothing she could do.”

“Then she went on to tell me how she had grown up in a home full of violence and so these ads disturbed her. I posted a picture of the ad onto my Facebook page, along with the centre management email and asked people to email the centre. There was a huge response; I’m not fully sure how many.”

“I stayed calm and shared how triggering and traumatic this ad would be to women who have been in domestive violence.” – Letitia Shelton

The store was in the Grand Central shopping centre in Toowoomba, Queensland, where Shelton runs a ‘City Free From Porn’ campaign. A physical visit to the centre made a difference, Shelton explains: “I made sure I followed up our emails with a meeting with the manager the next day. He was very sympathetic and said he had received all our complaints and had called the owners of the centre to see if the ads could be removed. Two days later, they were!”

This seasoned campaigner has some tips for getting action on Honey Birdette advertising and displays. “The key tip in these situations is to be polite and kind. I knew the lady in the HB shop had no power over the ads, so no point in getting angry at her. When talking to the manager, I stayed calm and shared how triggering and traumatic this ad would be to women who have been in domestic violence. He listened and was very understanding. And now that they have responded, we have been back to say thanks.”

It’s not just Christians such as Letitia Shelton who are campaigning against Honey Birdette. In my local area in Sydney, the Inner West Mum’s Facebook page is being very vocal and going after the Broadway and Burwood Honey Birdette stores.

Broadway has responded: “As the videos are being played behind the lease line, and are currently meeting Australian Advertising standards, the next course of action beyond direct contact with the brand would be to lodge a complaint here. We want to thank you again for providing feedback. Please know that we value your comments and will continue to work with the store to raise your concerns.”

And Burwood – a Westfield Centre – responded: “Our expectation is that our retailers balance their brand attributes with the relevant advertising standards and guidelines. AANA [the Australian Association of National Advertisers] has recently released a new Code of Ethics and we encourage all our retail partners to familiarise themselves with it.”

Which raises the question: why do these Honey Birdette video ads meet the AANA standards?

AANA claims its code is based on prevailing community standards. The code includes:

2.2 Advertising shall not employ sexual appeal:
(a)  where images of Minors, or people who appear to be Minors, are used; or
(b)  in a manner which is exploitative or degrading of any individual or group of people.
2.3  Advertising shall not present or portray violence unless it is justifiable in the context of the product or service advertised.
2.4  Advertising shall treat sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience.

As one Eternity staffer notes” “The Honey Birdette pictures in their shop window at Broadway shops has triggered some uncomfortable conversations with our four-year-old too …”

The “relevant” audience at a shopping centre includes children.

Letitia Shelton’s action needs to be replicated across the nation. You can complain to AANA here.