Friday, June 22, 2007

She wears a suit to work so it must be OK!

What do TV ads tell us about modern morality? In the case of the Nando’s commercial, quite a bit.

The idea behind the ad is that the company's chicken is so addictive you have to wear Nando’s patches or chew Nando’s gum to reduce the cravings. It’s a clever concept, but the advertisers decided on a controversial way of presenting the idea.

They made an ad in which a pole-dancing woman, naked except for a g-string, thrusts her rear end toward a male customer, but doesn’t get the tip because she is wearing a Nando's patch. So she changes to Nando's gum, and next time the happy client slips money into her g-string. Later she is shown in a happy family scene in which she and her family enjoy a chicken dinner together.

The ad attracted a number of complaints to the Advertising Standards Bureau. Some of these complaints were:

This ad was played in a popular public cinema at what is clearly a child friendly session time … showing sexually based advertising content to a young audience is totally inappropriate.

Shows and glorifies strip joints and venues that are R18 in a cinema full of children.

It was sexual and provocative and inappropriate for children to view.

Young children are shown it is acceptable for men to pay for gratuitous behaviour/performances. It promotes working in a strip club as an “ordinary” acceptable vocation for loving, family oriented mothers. It devalues the worth of women into sex objects.

How did Nando’s respond to these complaints? First, they argued that the nudity in the ad wasn’t “gratuitous” because it was “central to the idea” of the ad and ensured “authenticity”.

Second, they claimed that the ad, rather than being degrading to women, was the opposite because it showed a woman,

who was clearly in charge of her own destiny. The woman we depict in the commercial is shown to be intelligent, in control and making her own choices. She is not being coerced by the man in any way. She is acting in accordance with her own free will … Many women see the open display of female sexuality as a forthright display of empowerment.

This defence of the ad gets right to the heart of things. The company is invoking what is currently the ruling concept of morality, one based on liberal autonomy theory.

According to this theory, what matters is that we are self-determining, autonomous agents (as this is what is thought to make us human). So it is not what I choose which counts in terms of morality; it is that I am autonomous in choosing it.

That's why Nando's goes to such lengths to describe their pole-dancing mum as a self-determining agent: she is "in charge of her destiny," "in control," "making her own choices," "not ... coerced," and "acting in accordance with her own free will".

But should Nando's be portraying a woman who is engaging in a form of prostitution as a motherly role model? The company gives this answer:

We don't believe that it is our place, nor our audience's, to make a judgement about a woman's fitness as a mother based solely on her professional choices. The woman is not engaged in any activity that shows her being a bad mother. Indeed, she is clearly portrayed in the final scene as an ideal mother who cares for her family.

I hardly know where to begin my criticism of this statement. First, note the taboo placed on "judging" by Nando's. Again, this makes sense if the real aim of morality is to maximise autonomy. If we judge a choice negatively and make it morally illegitimate then we are placing a limit on someone's will, on their ability to determine for themselves how to act.

Hence the seeming arrogance of Nando's in solemnly telling us that we, the audience, must not make judgements about the choice of a mother to support herself by pole-dancing.

Note too the unrealistic, nihilistic conclusions that this leads to: that the woman is "not engaged in any activity that shows her being a bad mother" and that she is, in fact, an "ideal mother" who cares for her family.

In the Nando's world it would be impossible to uphold any moral standards. Individuals could behave however they liked, and as long as they could show they weren't coerced, their choices would be considered moral. Furthermore, it would be thought wrong to judge individuals for the moral choices that they did make.

Which leaves the Advertising Standards Bureau in a tricky position, as there isn't much for them to do without the possiblity of standards.

As it is, the ASB finding was laughably incoherent. The ASB dismissed the complaints against the ad, in part on this reasoning:

The Board noted the complaints that the advertisement vilified women by depicting the woman pole dancing and therefore as a stripper or prostitute. The Board considered that the depiction of the woman pole dancing was not a depiction of a sleazy or overtly sexual woman and that there was no suggestion that the woman was a prostitute.

A naked, pole-dancing woman shoving her genitalia toward a male client isn't "overtly sexual"? A woman accepts money for such a service and there is "no suggestion that the woman was a prostitute"? There is a radical redefinition of reality going on here. And what of Nando's claim that their pole dancing woman was engaging in "an open display of female sexuality" as an act of empowerment? How do you square this with the ASB denial that there was anything overtly sexual happening?

Then there is this ASB classic:

The Board noted complaints about the inappropriateness of stripping or pole dancing being shown in conjunction with images of a happy family and the disconnect between poledancing or stripping and family values. The Board considered that poledancing was not incompatible with family values.

Are we supposed to laugh out loud at this point? But then we get the explanation for the seemingly out of touch comments:

The Board noted many complaints about the depiction of a mother and wife as a pole dancer/prostitute and considered that this vilified women. The Board considered that this advertisement depicted a strong in control woman who went about her work in a professional manner (wearing a suit to work), enjoyed her work, enjoyed being 'sexy' and enjoyed time with her family. The Board considered that this advertisement depicted the woman as being a strong and empowered woman. The Board considered that the advertisement did not vilify women by portraying a woman in both roles or in a manner that demonstrated that she was 'sexy'. The Board considered that such a depiction was not improper as a depiction of someone who was also a mother and wife.

So the Board too follows autonomy theory morality. What matters is that the woman is an uncoerced, self-defining agent. She is a "strong in control woman" who "enjoyed her work" and who is "empowered" (rather than lacking power and therefore being coerced in her choices by someone else).

Again, the consequence of adopting this approach is that the concern is simply to be non-judgemental and permissive (as this places the fewest limits on individual choice). There isn't a focus on the inherent goodness of an act, nor a realistic assessment of the effects moral choices are likely to have.

At times, it seems as if the Board is content to press the right theoretical buttons, and to be unconcerned with the contradictory arguments this generates. In the last quote, for instance, we are told that the ad is OK because the woman enjoys being sexy (and is therefore uncoerced) and just a few lines later we're assured that the ad is fine because the woman is not being depicted as "sexy".

So at least Nando's have done us one favour. They have brought into the open the uselessness of the ASB as a body charged with upholding standards.

Note: to read the ASB finding you have to click here and go to the findings for June 2007


  1. I found the thing clever. Honestly, do we really want the government screening every bloody advert on the telly for something some bloke might find offensive?

    There's an off switch, mate.

    And if it really grates you, boycott the company! Convince your like-minded friends to do likewise. No reason to get bureaucrats to do a parent's job, mate.

  2. Anonymous,

    The point is this: in the age of moral-relativism, not everybody has a moral compass sufficiently, ah... empowered, to make the decision to use that "off switch".

    On another point:

    I wonder how many complaints Voodoo have received in comparison, about their clearly misandrist advertisements...

    For more information, see:

    1. Pip Wilson, "The (Double)Standards Board", WilsonsAlmanac, undated (@ 23 June 2007)

    ... which contains a complaint to the Australian Standard's Bureau and it's reply dated 24 April 2002. Some interesting parallels exists with the case Mr. Richardson discusses on OzConservative.

    2. Observer, with Michelle Hamer, "Sexism: Who's Calling the Shots", TheAge.Com.Au, 25 September 2003 (@ 23 June 2007)

    3. Richard Ralphsmith, "Masculinists Fight Back Over Sexploitation", B&T, 8 May 2002 (@ 23 June 2007)

    Also, why is "misandry" not in my spellchecker?

    Hmmm... interesting...

  3. Anonymous makes the typical retort. He misses the point that every so-called right that is discovered today also has an associated obligation. So the "right" to show dreck like that also means children have the obligation to see it.

    There are days when a violent counter-revolution sounds good to me. Put these wretches up against the wall.

  4. Jazz, that's simply daft, mate.

    Children have a right to see it? I never suggest anything of the sort.

    I'm saying that the airwaves shouldn't become this morality-police government-regulated medium. Obviously if there's a backlash, a smart television station will won't want such filth on the air, forcing the advertisers to make a few changes. But to have the government step in is ridiculous - then you have bureaucrats essentially acting as screeners - which is no science and leads to subjective, possibly wrongful interventions.

    Are we as a society so degraded that we would sooner hand the keys of free speech to dandies in Canberra than the individual where it ultimately belongs?

    I say you can do well enough keeping sentinel over your own glass house, mate, without telling everyone how to live their lives. Yours is a formula for censorship.

  5. What strikes me is how unoriginal the "progressive" creators of such ads have become. They continue to make ads that are laden with sexual innuendo as though that is the only angle in which to sell products and services. Perhaps sexual innuendo is the only way to sell to "progressives" these days? "Progressives" just can't seem to respond to anything more substantive?

  6. I'm glad I wasn't the only one that found this ad offputting. Frankly I found it ludicrous; whatever it was advertising was lost on me.

  7. Thordaddy, your comment reminds me of Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn's listing of characteristics of leftism (in _Leftism Revisited_). One of them: Liberty--below the belt. It's become a monomania with those who want no constraints on life, and suggests a form of slavery. St. Augustine was quite right when he said, "The good man, even though he is a servant, is free: the wicked man, even though he is a king, is a servant. He has as many masters as he has vices" (The City of God).

    Anon, I don't think you quite understood my point, but you bang out a standard "no limits!" line typical of liberalism. I don't think you understand a proper role of government in the good society, but I reckon that's a problem we live with since the West is so disordered.

    You'll be glad to know I'm raising all of my children to be illiberal traditionalists.

  8. Anonymous, I would much prefer that moral standards were upheld voluntary by the individuals of a community, rather than by state bureaucrats.

    This is a more realistic option, though, when there is a shared moral code which encourages people to act virtuously.

    It's a less realistic option when you live in a society in which such codes are thought of negatively as restraints, and what is thought to matter is autonomy rather than virtue.

    In such a society there is nothing that will uphold a community standard.

  9. Jazz:

    I love your work!


    You're position is liberal-permissive. Without a strong moral backbone, this libertarianism will act on the weaknesses of most, and lead to a loss of ethics and the degeneracy of interpersonal attitudes among citizens. Government's role is not to be a "nanny", but it does have a responsibility to govern. Sometimes a paternalistic reaction is called for.

    An example is Howard's recent interventionism with respect to the decrepit state of aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. Predictably, the left has come out in unison to denounce it as "racist" (funnily enough, when the government took the position that the communities were autonomous, the commentariate denounced Canberra as "negligent" in allowing evil to reign free in these self-imposed Australian Bantustans).

    I agree with you only to the extent that government should not legislate morality, but I depart from your liberal stance when you suggest that government has no right to enforce standards. If that were true, the natural conclusion would be to repeal criminal and defamation law. Clearly, this is a nonsense position; you should abandon it.

  10. Another point to make is that many people when criticising the portrayal of women in ads like Nando's resort to feminist terminology and complain about "sexism".

    It's not a terminology which helps much, though. It shifts attention from the inherent rightness or wrongness of what is portrayed and instead focuses on issues of discrimination or power balance.

    It means that the criticism can be undercut if it can be shown (and it usually can) that men too are portrayed in similar ways, or that the women are being portrayed as being "empowered" or "in control".

    I noticed for instance that the attempt to criticise the Nando's ad at the left-wing, feminist site Larvatus Prodeo finally came down to this:

    "I'd agree with you heartily [that using poledancing to sell stuff is a wonderful expression of democratic rights] if the traffic was equal and two way. If there were an equal amount of Spearmint Rhinos and Gentlewomens' clubs catering to women wanting to look at a parade of buff man-flesh, I'd be in complete agreement."

    So the "sexism" argument holds no in principle objection to what's happening - just a complaint about something else - about power relations.

    I don't find it surprising that the feminist approach hasn't had much influence in such matters. It seems to be largely ignored.

  11. “If there were an equal amount of Spearmint Rhinos and Gentlewomens' clubs catering to women wanting to look at a parade of buff man-flesh, I'd be in complete agreement.”

    I truly weary of feminists and their equality stance.

    The REASON is precisely because men & women differ in “WANTING” to look at different things. Feminists are saying, “Because WE don’t like it, neither can you.” – which is just childish.

    These feminists should really start using the abundance of psychiatrists & councilors that they seem so fond of – and do something about their childish insecurities.

    What I find irritating about these issues is their one-sidedness. I have no problem with women being (so-called) ‘sexist’ towards men, as long as WE AN DO IT TOO.

    That’s what gets me.

    It’s the ‘nyah, nyah, nyah’ (poking) attitude of these feminists that unashamedly treat men like dirt, - while the notion is that we must treat women with the respect of religion.

    It really appears that ‘what’s good for the gander is not ALLOWED for the goose’.


  12. I hate this Nandos commercial so much I've created my own Boycott Nandos site.

    Please visit.

    btw "kilroy" above quotes an article by "Richard Ralphsmith" who is himself one of the designers of the Nandos commercial.

  13. "Anonymous" has a point, and a good one, but the terrible power of sex both to sell and to force-mature the young is important, too. The question is whether we can meet the demands of freedom of speech and the restraint of the State while simultaneously shielding the immature from sights, sounds, and suggestions they're not ready for.

    It's a tough nut. There may be no solutions. But a renascence of parental responsibility would contribute mightily. Unfortunately, the government-run schools here in the States are doing their best to destroy that influence once and for all -- and they've gone a long way toward their goal.

    Marx and Lenin both saw the family as a principal stumbling block. Antonio Gramsci's "long march through the institutions" emphasized education and communications for a very good reason. Food for thought.

  14. BTW Mark,

    The reason feminists avoid the ‘ethical’ stance on this ad (as with most issies) – is that it would force them to question most of their ideals.

    Like abortion rights, Affirmative action, marriage, etc…

    So, they reduce everything to quotas, equality & feelings to get their way.


    “The question is whether we can meet the demands of freedom of speech and the restraint of the State while simultaneously shielding the immature from sights, sounds, and suggestions they're not ready for.

    It's a tough nut. There may be no solutions. But a renascence of parental responsibility would contribute mightily. Unfortunately, the government-run schools here in the States are doing their best to destroy that influence once and for all -- and they've gone a long way toward their goal.

    With immoral leftist leftist/feminist laws like ‘childrens rights’ (where a child doesn’t have to do what his/her parents instruct, and can even divorce his/her own parents) – the only person really shaping our children (and culture) is advertising.

    And feminists & corporations are ecstatic.

    To the poledancing mother…. “You go girl”.


  16. What strikes me is how unoriginal the "progressive" creators of such ads have become. They continue to make ads that are laden with sexual innuendo as though that is the only angle in which to sell products and services.

    It's 'cos they can only "think" with their Pink Bits.

    Anonymous, how hard is it to have appropriate types of advertising at children's movies, huh?

    If I had been there with my kids, I would have been extremely angry. Well, there it is - I will not allow my children to go to the cinema from now on. No movie experience is worth the corruption of my kids' innocence.

    You're going totally overboard with your cries of "censorship"!

    People who can only "think" with their sex organs probably deserve to be the in the thrall of guvvermint.

    You'll be glad to know I'm raising all of my children to be illiberal traditionalists.

    Good work, Jaz!

  17. Boycott: 'btw "kilroy" above quotes an article by "Richard Ralphsmith" who is himself one of the designers of the Nandos commercial.'

    Is that so? I had no idea.

    ... be that as it may, a few words concerning the Boycott Nandos Site.

    Firstly, credibility is lost by some of the points under 'reasons' given, viz, 1 - 3, and 6 - 8.

    I don't know whether 9 is in fact true, if so, this could be used as a far more powerful assault against this company.

    Points 4 and 5 are really the pertinent grievances that are made against the commercial (not point 1, which is gratuitous).

    Having said that, the site could very well be developed further and give future industry pause for thought.

  18. Ok, Listen kids.

    The ASB recieved a LARGE amount of complaints for this advert. To me, showing that a LARGE proportion of the COMMUNITY found this ad OFFENSIVE and did not comply with COMMUNITY VALUES. Which brings me to the question.

    The GOVERMENT needs to step in..and take over...THE ASB IS CLEARLY NOT WORKING and WE AS PEOPLE ARE NOT BEING HEARD ANYWAY! Wasn't that the point of having self - regulation is to be given a fair chance and give us the community a say?? WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED?

    MP Need to get cracking with this issue..


  19. In re: Anonymous of Sunday, 24 June 2007 10:11:00 AM EST

    Although I agree with the gist of your concern, I think you have confused a few things here.

    1. Unless the Australian Standards Bureau received a couple of million complaints, I don't think it could be said that 'a large proportion of the community found this add offensive' to the point where ceonsory action was mandated. This is because a significant proportion of the community will always find something 'offensive' no matter what it is; the case in point are the militant homosexual, feminist and now Muslim pressure groups that seem to be the darling of the leftist commentariat: they are always portrayed as representative of progressive, enlightened, and by implication, mock-majoritarian views. The Bureau is mandated to take censorial action when the criteria under which acceptable media standards are objectively breached. Mr. Richardson's discussion of the Bureau's determination regarding Nandos shows how left-libertarian ideology has clouded the Bureau's professionalism.

    2. The community is being listened to, just like it was with the overwhelming opposition to legalising RU486 by the Commonwealth Senate Standing Committee on that issue. It's just that the community is being ignored, just like it was on RU486.

    3. Abolishing the Bureau isn't the answer, just like abolishing the Australian Broadcasting Corporation isn't the answer to kill media bias against conservative issues. This is a question of culture. The culture must change. If the PM is taking an interventionist approach to the Bantustans in the Northern Territory because the powers that be (were) have failed, it may also be useful to apply the same approach to kick the Bureau back into shape.

  20. To the person ABOVE....GET YOU FACTS RIGHT...


    CAN YOU READ PROPERLY? Go back and have a GOOD read as to what they say. This is THE PROBLEM!!
    Their so called 'CODE OF ETHICS' be DEBATED. And their soft approach to GENDER SEXISM.






  21. Anonymous, you were a bit "ad hominous" in your reply to Kilroy.

    The Nando's commercial attracted over 200 complaints. Kilroy is right that this is not a massive number in itself; however it's a lot more complaints than are usually registered, so it ought to have triggered concern on the part of the ASB board.

    The ideal outcome would be for the Government to force change on the ASB, either through changing the composition of the board, or by toughening the criteria by which the board makes its decisions.

    I'm sceptical, though, that the Government will make the changes. They've had a long time to do so; you would think it would have been done by now if it was going to happen.

    So pressure for change will probably have to come from from other sources; from the general public and the media.

    I notice that the Herald Sun ran an article today attacking the Board over the Nando's decision on grounds very similar to the ones I made.

    So maybe the Board has "exposed" itself by running too far ideologically beyond what's likely to be accepted.

  22. I have made a handful of complaints to the ASB. They usually judge ads by "prevailing community attitudes", as they perceive them. So they don't set standards, they in fact follow them.

    Some of my complaints were of ads demonstrating unlawful behaviour - encouraging anti-social behaviour. Unlawful behaviour in ads is a breach of their ethics. Yet they ignored this because the prevailing community attitude was to break the law.

    The ASB and advertising companies are caught in a feedback loop. The advertisers stretch the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, it slips by the ASB who only ban ads "way out there". Those ads then set the new prevailing attitudes, and on and on the morals shift.

    "Entertainment shapes the land, the way the hammer shapes the hand". I have written to the police department to indicate the ASB is encouraging unlawful behaviour - I got nowhere.

    In regards to overtly sexy ads, I guess you have to write to politicians and hope you can find someone prepared to uphold some standards.

  23. I think the gentleman above has a point. But, What can be done? Because this rulling has sent a whole new message to advertisers about their OVERTLY use of sex and portrayal of women in general. I am worried what this means to other advertisers and what message is this sending to the community? The Board has LOST touch with COMMUNITY VALUES and probably needs to do their own research in this particular field.

    The ASB Self regulation has been under fire for a number of years now. This latest decision, has just reinforced all the critisms it recieved. So perhaps, it is time for a CHANGE.

    The Self Regulation is FAILING the PUBLIC.

  24. One thing we can do as suggested is raise our concerns by contacting local MPs or grovernment perhaps, Minister for Sex discrimination, Minister for Womens Rights, Minister of Communications ..ect... or even John Howard himself!

    In a way, i say Thank you for dismissing this ad...I know i hate it just as everyone else, BUT this has EXPOSED the ASB Board for what they really are..a JOKE!

    I am all for a fight with the ASB, it's being a long time coming...BRING IT ON!

  25. Dear Anonymous of Sunday, 24 June 2007 07:41:00 PM EST,

    Re: "To the person ABOVE....GET YOU FACTS RIGHT..."

    Sorry mate but I don't really listen to people when they yell. Change your tone and perhaps next time I'll bother reading the rest of your post.


  26. So what are we going to do about it?

    Has anyone contacted any MPs? I have sent an email to the Minister of womens right and now will send another to the Communications Minister.

    If you want the Biased Self Regulation Abolished, we need all the support we can get from you the community and most importantly any one from the goverment that is willing to listen and investigate our claims.

    The credibilaty of the ASB system and their decision making is in doubt.

  27. I agree with you only to the extent that government should not legislate morality

    Then what else can it legislate? The only thing that does need legislating is precisely morality. In fact, you go on to name two things that are morality legislation - murder and ruining another's good name. Legislating morality (discrimination, theft, murder, etc.) is the government's job. The trick is getting the government to strike the proper balance between enforcing a minimal level of morality and allowing sufficient levels of freedom. It is a balance that gets more difficult to maintain with the middle issues - like sexually suggestive advertising. How far is too far? But like it or not, a line has to be drawn.

  28. Here is something from the Australian Bureau of Standards:

    It pertains to a anti-speeding campaign being launched by the Roads and Traffic Authority.

    Quoting Linda Silmalis, 'Blokes point finger at RTA', Sunday Telegraph, (5 August 2007) (@ 5 August 2007):

    'The gesture, designed to symbolise a male with a small penis, is part of a strategy adopted by the RTA to make speeding "uncool".

    'But the advertisement, aired for the first time last month, has raised the ire of some male viewers, who feel it is demeaning.

    'In the five weeks it has been on air, the advertisement has been attracting about one complaint a day.

    'In a letter to the RTA, the Advertising Standards Bureau said it had received the complaints, although it would not be taking any action.

    'An RTA spokesman said the authority had also received numerous complaints.

    'But it would also not be scrapping or modifying its campaign.

    'The spokesman said the complaints were predominantly from men who had found the advertisement demeaning.

    If this was a campaign targeting women, and making allusions to their, say, breast size, one does not have to be a genious to predict the speed at which the adds would be torn down.