Huang Lijie, Ng Kai Ling & Jessica Lim – Straits Times Indonesia
The advertisement in Singapore featuring a topless man that is plastered on the Orchard shopfront of American fashion retailer Abercrombie & Fitch breaches the local advertising code of decency, a watchdog said.
The Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS), which made the ruling, has called for the ad – put up after April – to be removed.
But there is a hitch – ASAS has no legal rights to enforce its decision. The picture of a model wearing a pair of low-slung jeans, which spans the entire four-level shopfront, remains on display at the Knightsbridge mall in Orchard Road for now.
Some people who found the ad to be lewd and inappropriate for the prominent location wrote to The Straits Times’ Forum page last month, urging for it to be taken down.
This feedback prompted the ASAS council, which includes representatives from media owners, advertisers and government agencies, to review the ad.
It decided on Aug. 31 that the ad was objectionable.
ASAS chairman Tan Sze Wee said: “The general consensus was that the portrayal of the human anatomy had crossed the path of decency because the navel line was very much exposed.”
The authority proceeded to declare the suspension of the ad on Sept. 12.
It relies on voluntary compliance from stakeholders in the industry such as advertisers and media owners to ensure that the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice is observed. The code was drawn up by the ASAS.
It can ask an advertiser or advertising agency to amend or remove any ad that infringes the code.
It flexes its muscle by getting media owners, who are members of the council, to withhold ads that flout the rules.
The Abercrombie & Fitch ad, however, was erected by the American clothing brand itself, and not by a media owner on the ASAS council.
The clothing store is expected to open here by the end of the year. The casual-wear brand has a history of raising public ire overseas for racy ads that feature semi-nude models.
The brand also recently stirred up controversy here for recruiting good-looking front-line workers to be in sync with the store’s image and to drive sales.
Tan said ASAS had earlier approached the Park Hotel Group, which owns the Knightsbridge mall, to remove the ad.
However, it was told by the landlord to contact the fashion chain instead as the latter had put up the ad.
ASAS said it wrote to Abercrombie & Fitch’s offices here and in the United States on Sept. 14, but the company has not responded.
When asked, its spokesman Tom Rivard, who is based in Britain, said: ‘Abercrombie & Fitch is investigating the matter and is not in a position to provide a comment at this time.’
Tan said ASAS is looking for alternative avenues and the help of government agencies to remove the ad.
In the past, ASAS has had no difficulty taking errant advertisers such as slimming salons, beauty parlours and household-item retailers to task by getting them to remove or withdraw ads that were misleading or objectionable.
Media and entertainment lawyer Samuel Seow said that while ASAS has no legal rights to take action against the Abercrombie & Fitch ad, government agencies such as the Media Development Authority (MDA) may do so.
He added that the Undesirable Publications Act under MDA may allow it to enforce the removal of the ad if it finds that the photographic image exploits human nudity.
MDA was unable to respond to queries from The Straits Times on Wednesday.
But not everyone is turned off by the ad.
Freelance artist Juliet Peh, 50, said: ‘The ad has been there for some time already, so why make an issue out of it all of a sudden? The economy is on a downward spiral, you cannot blame Abercrombie for trying to drum up attention for its brand.’
Penny Yap, 40, owner of an art and decor company, said: “It’s a half-naked man and it’s quite an artistic shot. It’s not like it’s pornographic.”
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