Sep. 24, 2012 at 11:56 AM ET
Cheap-chic clothing brand Hennes & Mauritz AB was reprimanded by the Swedish regulatory body for the advertising industry following a furor that erupted over bikini ads featuring a very tan model, although it dismissed complaints that the ads were sexually suggestive and that the model was overly thin.
In May, the Swedish Cancer Society blasted a billboard campaign featuring Brazilian model Isabeli Fontana in an op-ed in Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter for promoting what it called “an ideal of beauty that is life-threatening.”
“The main cause of skin cancer is too much sun exposure,” the article said. “Each year more than 40,000 people in Sweden are diagnosed with some form of skin cancer. Malignant melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, is estimated to cause about 500 deaths.”
In response, H&M issued an apology, saying, “We are very sorry if anyone has been upset by our latest swimwear campaign. It has not been our intention to show a specific ideal or to encourage a harmful behavior."
RO, also known as Reklamombudsmannen, the industry’s advertising ombudsman, weighed in on a number of complaints it received about the campaign. Some objected “because it portrays women as mere sex objects” and contains “sexual innuendo that devalues women.” RO also said some complainants found the model too thin and promoted an unhealthy body image.
In each of these cases, regulators determined that the ads fell within the bounds of appropriate advertising, saying it was acceptable and even expected that swimsuit ads would use an “eye-catcher” model.
In response to complaints about what it referred to as Fontana’s “severe sunburn,” though, RO said, “It is well known that excessive exposure of the skin to the sun... is harmful and can lead to skin cancer.” As a result, it concluded, “The advertisement in this regard is designed without a due sense of social and professional responsibility.” RO does not have the authority to levy fines in connection with violations.
H&M reiterated the assertion it made back in May that its only goal with the campaign was to sell bathing suits, according to the Wall Street Journal. “Social responsibility is very important to us,” a spokesperson told the paper.