The most-offensive beauty ad of all time?

Fragrance ads are intended to be largely provocative. Why? Advertisers know the human sense of smell triggers a flood of memories, and if presented properly to the right demographic, could lead to extremely successful sales. The same goes with beauty products, which is why the prevalent use of Photoshop by companies has come under fire as misleading product representations.

So it comes as no surprise that with the release of the UK's Advertising Standards Authority 2011 annual report, the vast majority of complaints related to style are centered around beauty and fragrance ads rather than high-fashion campaigns. Surprisingly, the ASA received 31,458 complaints regarding 22,397 ads in 2011, and the independent regulation organization proudly presents this information just in time for its 50th anniversary.

The most intriguing part of the entire report however is the section called "Our top ten most complained about ads of all time." With 948 upheld complaints, Yves Saint Laurent's Opium ad from 2000 featuring a naked Sophia Dahl is the eighth most-complained about ad in the last fifty years.

The infamous ad campaign was shot by famed photographer Steven Meisel. It is best-remembered as a product of then-creative director Tom Ford who wanted to revamp YSL's image with a fresh campaign, one he wanted to align with the women's liberation movement, which the fashion house is best known for. (Think pants). The ASA says its decision was based on Dahl's pose which they say was "sexually suggestive" calling it "degrading" and "offensive" to women. Although the scent's billboard ads were pulled, Ford's plan ultimately worked: The fragrance remains one of YSL's most-formidable, best-selling scents of all time.

Last November, we reported that the ASA banned Marc Jacobs' Oh Lola! ad featuring a then-17-year-old Dakota Fanning seated in a "sexually provocative" manner. Prior to that incident, the ASA banned two misleading beauty ads, one featuring Julia Roberts, the other with Christy Turlington as its face. These examples are also highlighted in the report.

Earlier this year, the ASA ruled that a print ad for L’Oréal's Revitalift Repair 10 featuring Rachel Weisz was misleading, and held the company accountable for false advertising. One can only imagine that the company will continue to do so.


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