15 February 2012

Ryanair walks the line on Sexy v. Sexist

Twitter has been a-buzz today with the news that Ryanair's recent print advert was deemed "too sexy" for UK media. Well, actually not too sexY but too sexIST. There's a big difference and I'll try my best to show you what I think that difference is. 

Here's a picture of the advert that appeared in two UK newspapers. I'll let you decide for yourself on this one. What do you think? Is this good advertising? Is this okay? Ladies in particular, do you want to fly with Ryanair now? Better yet, are you inclined to work for them now?

 Ryanair advert

The folks who get to decide what adverts get banned are the ASA: The Advertising Standards Authority. They don't only make decisions about the sex-factor, but also keep a close eye on advertising for alcohol and tobacco, adverts directed at children, and female body-image among other issues that arise. 

Recently, the ASA banned a L'Oreal advert featuring Rachel Weisz. Here it is:

Rachel Weisz in the banned L'Oréal advert (click for full image)

They were advertising a product that supposedly makes your skin super-smooth. But in this image her face is digitally altered to make her skin look smooth. It's photoshop and not skin cream that achieves these results. The ASA says that is false advertising and will not allow it.

But what about those Ryanair girls? The women that appear in the adverts are actual cabin crew who volunteered to take part. So that's not FALSE advertising, right? It can't be offensive if the women wanted to do it, right? That's what Ryanair says, but the ASA disagrees. 

Sexy is okay. After all, you don't have to work in advertising to know that sex sells! Sexist, however, is not okay. Let's look at two adverts by Axe that the ASA has reviewed. One was banned and one wasn't. I think this is the prefect precedent for the difference between sexy and sexist.

Here's the banned one:

This one wasn't banned:

Can you see the difference? There's actually an alternate version of that second one where the ladies in the end do move their hands. That was not approved for tele. Ok, so it is a fine line. But at the end of the day I think the ASA is a necessary organisation. I really think that most of the time they make the right call. 

What do you think? Was it the right call to ban the Ryanair advert? Are there any other banned adverts that you think are unfair?

If you'd like to learn a little more about the whole affair you can see what the BBC reported here, or what Huff Post had to say here, or get the SkyNews take here


  1. It's like you said, sex sells! How can you call it sexist when EVERYONE is doing it? Ryanair is doing it. Axe is doing. Beer commercials do it. Hell, I'm surprised I don't turn on the TV and see some girl in a bikini delicately sucking on a noodle and licking tomato sauce from her lips: "Chef Boyardee! Mmm, is it hot in here, or is it just THIS PASTA?"

  2. I'm not terribly sure that I see the difference between the two AXE ads, apart from one being hypersexual and the other just sexy. I don't see either as Sexist and not Sexist. In fact, I'm struggling to find a way to frame an argument to call either of them sexist without raising prejudicial overtones as to the level at which women should be protected. In the age of lipstick feminism one might consider these adds empowering; i.e. women using their sexuality to whatever advantage they pursue.

    Now the problem with Sexism is that it's feminist focused, but there is no "maleist" argument for perfume ads that treat men in exactly the same way that these commercials treat women. These ads are merely representative only of a hypersexual society, which is a distinct question from whether or not the ads are prejudicial, stereotypical, or discriminatory.

    As to the Ryanair ad.. well, they're several cases that make the argument about discrimination in the airline industry based on sex, and indeed on hires between women applicants (i.e. sexuality and age being factors, sometimes overtly so). For the airline industry who has faced these issues before, it's particularly poor taste that Ryanair should promote itself this way but.. then again.. it's Ryanair. I really think they get more press from shock-factor than from legitimate PR. Not at all surprised.