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Even in France, a thong ad backlash

In a rare move for a country accustomed to sex in advertising, a French trade group has called on thong maker Triumph to withdraw a billboard campaign that has been condemned as offensive to women.
/ Source: Reuters

Sex is used to sell everything from pizzas to soap powder in France, but a lingerie ad showing three scantily clad pole-dancers is proving too explicit.

In a rare move, a French advertising trade group has called on underwear manufacturer Triumph to withdraw a billboard campaign for its Sloggi range, which has been widely condemned as offensive to women

The fear among advertisers is that the ad, with its explicit exposure of the models’ buttocks, will prompt the government to replace the existing system of industry self-regulation with laws on what can and cannot be portrayed in ads.

“It’s the strip-tease context which is the problem in the Sloggi ads. ... It is very damaging for the image of advertising,” said Joseph Besnainou, director of the trade group BVP.

The advertisement depicts the back of one model wearing nothing but a G-string or thong — known as “un string” in French — while two others sport underwear almost as skimpy as they coil around poles.

Billboards near schools
The BVP, which rarely chooses to rebuke advertisers, said it had received complaints from the public, mayors and other local officials to the nationwide street advertising campaign.

“In particular we are seeing a backlash among women against these type of ads,” Besnainou said in an interview.

And the backlash is not limited to the conservative right. Among the first to come out against the Sloggi campaign was Socialist former education minister Segolene Royal, a social liberal also known for her common-law marriage to another top left-winger.

Triumph has refused to pull the campaign, which could be regarded as tame compared to past French magazine advertising by brands such as Versace and Emmanuel Ungaro, which have included lesbian scenes and images of women apparently masturbating.

But the Sloggi ads, frequently on billboards placed near schools, come just as French teachers try to deal with a fashion craze among teenage girls to expose their midriffs and wear thongs specifically designed to be seen above low-cut trousers.

Feminists say the advertisements make women and girls regard themselves as sex objects and note that until a recent sales boom the thong was largely confined to the sex industry.

Besnainou said the trade group would be presenting ideas to strengthen the current system of self-regulation, possibly including a voluntary code of conduct.

“But nudity will always be used in adverts in France,” he said. “It’s part of our culture.”