The latest ad campaign by London-based luxe tight brand, Heist, hit the headlines and caused a stir on social media when it was censored by Transport for London (TfL) for being “overtly sexual”, putting the debate about the depiction of women in advertising firmly in the spotlight once again.
The original advert featured a strong-looking female dancer - back to the camera - leaping in the air dressed only in a pair of the brand’s highly sought-after, 5,000 thread count tights. The only ‘nude’ bit of her was her back, and no part of her chest was visible in the shot.
However, Exterion Media, which holds the advertising contract for the Tube, asked the brand to Photoshop a bandeau top over the dancer’s back stating that “topless models” were not allowed on Transport for London advertising.
Since its launch in late 2015, Heist has been on a mission to disrupt the women’s underwear market, positioning itself as “passionate about progressing the conversation about female bodies” by creating tights that come from an understanding of “what the body can do, not what it looks like”.
Its decision to use dance and movement in the imagery for the ad was, it said, “a conscious decision to challenge the way women are traditionally sexualised in underwear adverts”. So, when the advert was censored before it could be rolled out, Heist wasted no time in re-opening the debate about female representation, particularly in advertising.
Placing itself firmly at the centre of the conversation about what is and isn’t deemed an acceptable representation of women’s bodies, it pointed out the often unrealistic, sexualised images of women and urged its tens of thousands of customers to help it affect urgent change. Suddenly, supporting Heist and its advert was about more than just liking its seam-free tights. It was about challenging the status quo and perceived double standards.
“Are images of topless male models banned? No,” the brand wrote in an email to its customers after the story broke. “Are images of women in seductive poses and clothes screened out? Oftentimes, not. How can we provide an alternative view of women’s bodies if we’re effectively banned from showing it? We’re on a mission to change women’s underwear for good – this won’t stop us!”
Of course, their email was written before TfL also banned an advert featuring “naked” pictures of football pundit Gary Lineker, ordering the company behind the advertising campaign to put underwear on him. The Lineker ad, believed to be for a major retailer, was reportedly rejected because it “displays nude or semi-nude figures in an overtly sexual context”. This was the same reason given for the censorship of Heist’s ad, demonstrating an effort to apply the same standards to adverts featuring both men and women.
The best adverts embody values that reach beyond the product they sell, with powerful and inspiring messages that resonate with their target audience. They inspire trust, create an emotional bond with the consumer and a relationship that transcends the item or service they are advertising.
Heist’s message of female empowerment builds on the foundations laid by the likes of Adidas, Nike and Sport England, whose award-winning ‘This Girl Can’ advertising campaign has encouraged millions of women to become more active in the UK. The mantras that form an essential part of that campaign, for example “Sweating like a pig, feeling like a fox”, were based on a survey of 200,000 people that sought to find out why women felt exercise and sport weren’t for them. It highlighted common concerns, such as not being good enough or overcoming female stereotypes.
While it’s too soon to tell, Heist is unlikely to have suffered any damage as a result of the furore surrounding its first outdoor advertising campaign. In fact, the campaign has gained more exposure and publicity as a result. And the way that Heist has jumped on the controversy and steered the conversation to raise issues that are at the heart of its brand means that it’s probably gained a few ambassadors in the process.
This article appeared in the Western Mail newspaper on 23 October 2017.
Angharad Neagle is group managing director of Freshwater UK, the Cardiff-headquartered communications consultancy.