Where should the line be drawn between “flirtatious fun” and inappropriate material?

So Jack Wills has been banned from republishing a catalogue which one of my colleagues described as “scandalous”. Having seen the printed evidence face to, erm, face, it does appear that the varsity-inspired retailer sailed very close to the wind with its somewhat more than partial nudity. But cast your minds back and consider what has been done in the past in the name of popularising a brand.

Perhaps the most obvious example, for those of a certain age, involved a TV ad featuring cornfields, a Cadbury’s “Flake” and an improbably full-lipped girl. Whether, in these rather more politically aware days, this would generate complaints in the way that the Jack Wills catalogue has done is a moot point, but it was shown at prime time and was certainly eyebrow raising.

Now take a walk up the staircase in the Abercrombie & Fitch store at the bottom of Savile Row. If you work on the premise that stores are, in effect, outsize advertisements for brands, then the distinctly homoerotic paintings that festoon the walls could be seen to be inappropriate for the legions of impressionable teens for whom this is fashion central.

Or come to that, what about the bikini clad “models” to be found in certain Hollister stores? Granted, they are not indulging in the kind of “flirtatious” (the words of Jack Wills) behaviour which appalled the 19 Advertising Standards Authority complainants and a Retail Week co-worker, but where should the line be drawn?

There is a school of thought that says that if you live in a highly sexualised society then stores and their associated promotional material are merely a direct reflection of the permissive environment of which they are part. And when was the last time that a young teen was prevented from inspecting the darker recesses of an Ann Summers store?

Jack Wills appears to have strayed beyond the boundaries of what is considered acceptable on a printed page for younger teenagers, but walk around our high streets and there are many examples of equally flagrant flaunting of what might be termed “fun”. This is not, by the way, an attempt to condone what has been done by Jack Wills. On the other hand, does it matter to shoppers? The self-same colleague noted that on Saturday afternoon, the Jack Wills Guildford branch was packed. The sad truth is that those who voice their objections to the ASA are the least likely to be found shelling out for the merchandise that is on offer in this retailer’s stores. The old adage that any publicity is good publicity seems entirely appropriate for this ‘inappropriate’ campaign.