Advertising’s Double Standards

The Advertising Standards Authority has received criticism after banning a cancer charity advert and a Calvin Klein poster ad starring FKA twigs. Despite all the claims of body positivity and female empowerment in recent years, is the ad industry more prudish than it lets on?

Two weeks into 2024 and Calvin Klein has already had quite the year. A whistlestop tour for those who happened to be absent from social media in the last couple of weeks: the Bear’s Jeremy Allen White broke the internet with an ad campaign set on the rooftops of New York City, in which the actor was in nothing but his Calvins. A matter of days later, a Calvin Klein poster advert resurfaced from April 2023, which featured a photograph of musician, dancer, and director FKA twigs in nothing but her Calvins – in this case, a denim shirt.

The difference? Following complaints from two people, the latter was banned by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for using nudity and centring on her “physical features rather than the clothing, to the extent that it presented her as a stereotypical sexual object.”

The Calvin Klein case is striking for several reasons. Not only does it invite comparisons to the Allen White campaign that happened to launch in the same week (though who knows, maybe the ASA will come down on the new campaign in due course, too). It also invites comparisons to other tonally similar images in the very same campaign that twigs appeared in. Complaints were lodged against two photographs of campaign co-star Kendall Jenner, but the ASA gave them the green light.