Photo: Harvey Nichols / Screengrab
Harvey Nichols, the upscale London department store best-known to U.S. audiences as the favoured haunt of Patsy and Edina in Absolutely Fabulous, has survived a demand for a ban on its advertising from people complaining it discriminates against the poor women.The controversy revolves around an amusing video Harvey Nicks made to promote its posh party dresses. To the lilting tones of “Morning Has Broken.” It showed women making their way home in the cold light of dawn, nursing hangovers—and still wearing the inappropriately short dresses and tall heels from the night before. The ad urged women to avoid “the walk of shame” by buying their party frocks from Harvey Nicks, and it ends with a woman turning heads as she arrives at her front door in a classy gold number. The ad was made by DDB.
It caused a problem for four viewers who felt the ad was sexist (by relying on stereotypes about women who have casual sex) and class-ist (by implying that only women wealthy enough to wear Harvey Nicks can hold their heads up high after painting the town red. The complainants, who asked the Advertising Standards Authority to ban the spot, said:
Three complainants challenged whether the ad was offensive, because it suggested that lower class women who had one-night stands should feel shame, whilst more wealthy women who behaved in the same way should feel proud.
One complainant challenged whether the ad was offensive, because it mocked less wealthy women and those who did not have ‘model’ figures.
HNC said they had not been prejudicial towards any type of woman, whether in relation to social class, wealth or body-shape. They said their research showed them that the ‘Walk of Shame’ was something that women of all social classes could relate to, and they had deliberately selected a mixed cast of characters to reflect that. They said the ad featured women with a range of body-shapes, ranging from size 8 to size 18.
The ASA concluded that the ad challenged, rather than reinforced, notions of what poor, drunk women do when wearing short skirts at night:
… whilst the ad mainly depicted women on the ‘Walk of Shame’ who looked disheveled and uncomfortable, the final scene showed a woman who appeared neat and confident. We considered the ad did not, therefore, reinforce negative stereotypes of women generally, or women who chose to have casual sex in particular, nor that it was sexist or demeaning to women.
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