Jack Wills: Controversy Be My Friend

British teenage clothing brand, Jack Wills, has had its recent mail-out spring catalogue banned for images and text being too sexualised for young teenagers. The images show young men and women in their underwear drinking, dancing and in bed together. Another image shows a topless male model in bed with a woman in a bra, with the bra strap falling off her shoulder. There is suggestive text under each image, with words like,  “Whatever your choice, you can be sure it’s what’s underneath that counts” and “Midnight mischief”. This controversy means a lot of public exposure and media where the brand name Jack Wills is mentioned many times.

Jack Wills
Jack Wills Catalogue Image 2016. Image by TheGuardian

Jack Wills says the advertising is targeted at 18-24 year-old university students rather than younger teenagers. They say images are not “sexualised, provocative and did not imply sexual activity in any way.” Rather the images portray friends enjoying a ‘weekend away, relaxing with each other and enjoying a pyjama party’. Jack Wills says that the images “reflected the life stages” of its target audience, 18 to 24 year-old university students”. Jack Wills also argued that the catalogue was sent in an opaque envelope, and that the website had an under 18 restriction for signing up.

Jack Wills
Spring Catalogue 2016. Image by Telegraph.co.uk

The Advertising Standards Authority got a complaint from a mother who thought the advertisement was unsuitable for younger teenagers. The ASA thought younger teens may have access to the ad, directly or indirectly. The ASA said that the images were likely to appeal to those readers because they portrayed a lifestyle to which they might aspire. They thought the images were sexually suggestive rather than flirtatious and playful. Jack Wills said that in future it would print on envelopes containing advertisements

“Please note: You need to be over 18 years old to sign up for Jack Wills’ correspondence.”

However, this is not the first time Jack Wills has been pulled up for controversial and overly sexualised advertising. In 2011 the Advertising Standards Authority stopped any reprints of their ‘come-to-bed’ spring catalogue shoot for being “sufficiently provocative to present a risk to younger teenagers”. A campaign for the 2009 spring catalogue containing alleged gratuitous nudity escaped a ban.

Jack Wills
Spring Catalogue 2016. Image by FashionUnited

The controversy created by these sexualised advertising campaigns creates a lot of articles, media and exposure online and in published material. The name of the brand, Jack Wills is said over and over again. This creates brand familiarity. Each time Jack Wills releases a controversial advertising campaign there is a furore and a public discussion and even if there is a ban all the while this fashion brand is getting more and more much coveted public exposure. Is it in their interest to be inappropriately sexual to garner controversy?

“One of the fastest ways for any company to generate publicity and sales is with controversial content. Controversy is a seed that can quickly breed publicity in an exponential fashion. That’s because as the controversial story gains popularity, more journalists and media companies seem to write about and replay the story. With social media, the story can stimulate viral marketing. Before you know it, millions of people–including your prospective customers–can become aware of and instil passion about the product or service that is the involved in the story.”