The Advertising Standards Authority has banned a Marc Jacobs featuring Dakota Fanning because it sexualises a child – sparking a debate over just where to draw the line when it comes to marketing. According to the ASA: “the length of her dress, her leg and the position of the perfume bottle drew attention to her sexuality. Because of that, along with her appearance, we considered the ad could be seen to sexualise a child.” Of course, Fanning has long moved on from childish roles – just look at this 2010 corset shot from The Runaways. Compared to that, the ad for perfume ‘Oh, Lola!’ seems rather tame – so why did it ruffle feathers? The ASA is not actually concerned by Fanning’s age but by the ad’s evocation of youth and innocence. This image is full of pink, the colour we associate little girls with from birth. Fanning’s dress is cute, with a juvenile scalloped skirt and that pink-and-white polka dot pattern. The walls belong in a 12 year old girls’ bedroom. Naturally, we’re startled by the jolt of sexuality provided by the bottle. Really, though, Fanning is 17. There are boatloads of 17-year-old models posing far more provocatively than she – just look at this picture of Lindsay Lohan’s sister modelling this lace dress at age 16. Oddly, the ASA is upset that Fanning dressed too young for her age, rather than too old. They’re more concerned by demureness than by raunchiness. There’d be no problem if Fanning appeared in her underwear for a Calvin Klein ad. So, it’s Fanning’s apparent rather than actual youth that bothers the agency. Following this logic, a Victoria’s Secret campaign featuring a 14-year-old girl who looked 20 would be completely fine. Troubling. Either way, the appearance of youth led many consumers to denounce the ad– one visitor to a fragrance website posted “I’m joining the boycott of Oh Lola! because of the ad.” Yet on the same page many women praise the scent’s childish qualities – one described it as the “shy and sweet little sister” of another fragrance. By designing a scent with notes of vanilla, pear and strawberry Marc Jacobs has tapped into women’s desire to act ‘cute,’ not unlike little girls. Yet he’s been banned for pausing so provocatively on the aesthetic border between adult sexuality and childish precocity. I imagine the prohibition will prove the cornerstone of his campaign. But if you’d like a provocative campaign that stays on the right side of the law, brief the Exchange.
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