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Harvey Nichols escapes ad censure


Upmarket department store Harvey Nichols has escaped censure following complaints that a Christmas ad showing women doing the "walk of shame" was offensive and demeaning.

The ad, titled A Harvey Nichols Christmas 2011 - Ever Faced the Walk of Shame?, showed several women in eveningwear making their way home in the early morning looking "dishevelled and uncomfortable", the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said.

On-screen text then stated Avoid the Walk of Shame this Season followed by footage of a smartly dressed woman approaching a flat and confidently acknowledging a postman.

The ASA received four complaints that the ad, which the store uploaded on to YouTube in early December, was offensive because it demeaned women, implied sexual violence and reinforced negative stereotypes, in particular those who chose to have casual sex.

Three of the complainants challenged whether the ad was offensive for suggesting that lower-class women who had one-night stands should feel shame while more wealthy women who behaved in the same way should feel proud.

Harvey Nichols said it had intended to "raise a smile" by reminding people of a "familiar hazard" of the Christmas party season, adding that the ad's emphasis was on wearing clothes that resulted in "your head held high".

The "phenomenon" had been popularly referred to as the "walk of shame", but the ad was intended to convey the idea that women did not have any reason to be ashamed and could do the "stride of pride", which was how men were referred to in the same situation.

The store said the ad did not endorse casual sex, and the women could just as likely have been returning home from a friend's house. Neither did it attempt to judge or be prejudicial towards any type of woman, whether in relation to social class, wealth or body shape.

Response to the ad suggested that the "vast majority" of viewers had enjoyed it, lodging 1,223 "likes" in comparison with 221 "dislikes" after 725,000 hits on YouTube.

YouTube owner Google said it was "unfortunate" that the ad had offended some people but did not comment on the specific issues raised by the complainants.

The ASA said it, like the complainants, understood the term "walk of shame" to refer to an early-morning journey home, specifically after a one-night stand.

However, the ad's final scene showed a woman who appeared neat and confident so did not, therefore, reinforce negative stereotypes of women.

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

And it 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."

It ruled that Harvey Nichols did not need to take any further action.