ASA release revised ruling on the FKA Twigs Calvin Klein adverts

March 14, 2024
Piccadilly Circus Advertisements

The public (and FKA Twigs) spoke, and the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) listened. Although not a complete reversal, the ASA published a revised ruling on 6 March 2024 on the FKA Twigs ‘Calvins or nothing’ billboard campaign.

The adverts

A poster for Calvin Klein was the subject of the original complaint. It featured the singer, FKA Twigs, wearing a denim shirt that covered half of her body, leaving some of her body exposed, with the text ‘Calvins or nothing’ (FKA Twigs Poster).

The complaints

The advert received complaints that the images were overly sexual and potentially breached the CAP Code. Under the CAP Code, marketing communications must:

  • be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society (rule 1.3); and
  • not contain anything that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence, with particular care being needed to avoid causing offence on the grounds of gender (among other things) (rule 4.1)[1].

The complainants believed the advert was offensive and irresponsible because it objectified women and was inappropriate for display in an untargeted medium. The FKA Twigs Poster was displayed in public and was likely to be seen by children and adults alike.

Calvin Klein refuted that the ad was overly sexualised, describing the images as being of a confident and empowered woman, who had chosen to identify with the Calvin Klein brand, and who had collaborated with the brand to create the images and approved them before publication. The ‘Calvins or nothing’ campaign was not focused on sexualising women because well-known men also featured in it.

That became a central theme in what happened next – namely were men and women being judged differently when assessing ‘objectification’ in adverts.

The first ruling

In their first ruling in January 2024, the ASA held that the FKA Twigs Poster centred on nudity rather than advertising the clothes, and so presented FKA Twigs as a stereotypical sexual object. The ASA found that the advert was irresponsible, likely to cause serious offence and not suitable for display in an untargeted medium.

That decision prompted a stinging response from FKA Twigs herself who posted on Instagram that she “saw a strong beautiful woman” and did not identify with “the stereotypical sexual object that [the ASA] have labelled me”. FKA Twigs went on to say that “in light of reviewing other campaigns past and current of this nature, I can’t help but feel there are some double standards here… I will not have my narrative changed”.

The revised ruling

Faced with the significant media backlash that followed, the ASA published a revised ruling earlier this month[2].

The ASA cited its unease with the language used in its initial ruling and after “careful thought”, decided that the ads presented FKA Twigs as “a woman who appeared to be confident and in control” and, as a result, that she had not been objectified. The FKA Twigs Poster was therefore not irresponsible or likely to cause serious or widespread offence based on sexual objectification.

However, the ASA upheld its decision that the FKA Twigs Poster could not be displayed in an untargeted medium, as it was an overtly sexual image of the singer. The ban on the ad appearing in the same format therefore remains.


It is good to see the ASA admit when it has got a decision wrong. In its press statement, the ASA was at pains to recognise that its original decision had been “widely criticised, not least by the singer herself” and stress that it is “not deaf to the commentary that surrounds our decision making”.[3]

The question of double-standards though was not specifically addressed with the ASA, because the male-equivalent Calvin Klein ads had not been the subject of complaints which the ASA could pursue.

The message for advertisers is a difficult one because the assessment around stereotyping, objectification and harm and offence is not clear-cut. What is clear, however, is that the context is going to be important. Where the featured model has clearly chosen to present themselves in a particular way (so express approval of the end image has been obtained) and where the general audience is supportive, the ad may not warrant ASA intervention.

Caroline CopelandCaroline Copeland
Caroline Copeland
Caroline Copeland
Louise JordanLouise Jordan
Louise Jordan
Louise Jordan

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