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Harvey Nichols 'walk of shame' ad cleared by regulator

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Harvey Nichols ad campaign
A 'Walk of Shame' ad campaign run by retailer Harvey Nichols last year has been cleared by the UK's advertising regulator, despite complaints that it was offensive and reinforced negative stereotypes about women.

The advert, which ran just before Christmas 2011, showed several women dressed in evening wear and looking "disheveled and uncomfortable" as they made their way home in the early morning after a night on the tiles.

It ended with a glamorous woman wearing a dress from Harvey Nichols confidently entering her house the morning after her night out. The ad also encouraged women to share their own stories via the "#walkofshame" Twitter hashtag.

Watch the Harvey Nichols ad below:



However, five complaints objected to the ad campaign, leveling various charges including that it was offensive, reinforced negative stereotypes about women who chose to have casual sex, and even that it hinted at sexual violence as one woman featured had ripped tights.

Another complaint criticised the campaign for suggesting 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".

Harvey Nicholas apologised for any offence caused by the ad, but insisted that the intention was to "raise a smile" by reminding people of a "familiar hazard" of the Christmas party season, involving waking up and having to make the journey home in the cold light of day.

The retailer said that the term 'walk of shame' has become a popular phrase, but the ad was intended to show that women "did not have any reason to be ashamed".

In terms of the casual sex claims, the company claimed that the women could just as likely have been returning home from a friend's house as a one-night stand. It also said that the ad featured women of all sizes and social classes, and the aim was to show that they could all do the 'Stride of Pride'.

The ad has been watched 725,000 times on YouTube, said Harvey Nichols, receiving 1,223 likes and 221 dislikes. Google, the owner of YouTube, said that it was "unfortunate" some people had been offended by the video, but said that it did not breach its advertising policies.

In its ruling, the ASA noted the arguments put forward by Harvey Nichols, but said that it, like the complainants, thought the term 'walk of shame' referred to an early morning journey after a one-night stand.

The regulator therefore said that referencing walk of shame in the ad would imply that the women had casual sex the previous night. But it also noted that the content of the ad did not reinforce negative stereotypes about women in general, or those who chose to have casual sex.

"We understood one complainant believed the ad was offensive because the scene of a woman wearing ripped tights implied sexual violence," said the ASA.

"However, we considered the majority of viewers would not interpret the scene in that way, because ripped or laddered tights were common in everyday situations

"We noted the ad depicted women of a range of sizes and in a variety of dress styles. We also noted they were shown in a range of locations and situations which did not necessarily suggest they belonged to a specific social class or had a certain level of wealth.

"We therefore considered the ad did not imply that lower class women who had one-night stands should feel shame whilst more wealthy women should feel proud, or that it mocked less wealthy women who did not have 'model' figures."

The watchdog added: "We acknowledged that some people might find the theme of the ad distasteful, but we concluded that it was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence."

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