ON HOLD: Katlego Tshabangu, a receptionist at Virgin Mobiles Sandton office. The ASA has banned a TV advertisement by the cellular company that shows a girl's breasts. Picture: Leon Nicholas

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled that a Virgin Mobile advert be banned because it appeared to show young girls as sexually appealing.

A few consumers lodged complaints against a Virgin Mobile television commercial flighted on M-Net last month. The commercial showed a male celebrity arriving at an event where numerous fans cheer him on as he makes his way up the red carpet.

Among the fans are four girls who lift up their shirts and expose their breasts to catch his attention. Three of the girls cover themselves up again, whereas the fourth girl keeps standing there with her breasts exposed.

The commercial then shows that she has a key in her back similar to a wind-up toy, and that it has stopped turning. The words, “We know what running out of airtime feels like”, appear on screen.

The first consumer submitted in her complaint that the girls could not have been older than 10 or 12 and that the commercial exploited children and bordered on child pornography. The second complainant submitted that the commercial was offensive, degrading of women and distasteful as it equated the feeling of having your airtime run out to not being able to view a woman’s naked breasts.The third complainant submitted that the commercial was degrading to women and showed very young girls flashing in public.

In response to the complaint, Virgin Mobile South Africa submitted that all four actresses were in fact in their twenties and were not young girls.

The cellular company said the young women had signed a contract with the advertising agency specifying their identity numbers and confirming their ages. It also submitted that the intention of the commercial was to equate running out of airtime with the feeling of being left in an unfortunate or embarrassing situation.

It added that the intention was not to imply that the feeling of having your airtime run out was the same as not being able to view a woman’s naked breasts, as was submitted by one of the complainants.

In its ruling, the ASA referred to a past ruling, made in 1999, in which it had said: “The way an advertisement is perceived by members of the public is important, regardless of the advertiser’s intentions, because it is an indication of the impact it has on them, therefore perception is reality.”

The authority said accordingly that, if the actors looked and acted like girls under the age of 18, then to the viewer they were under the age of 18. It added that while it rejected the first complainant’s assertion that the female models appeared to be 10 or 12 years old, it could not ignore the fact that they all wore the same pink T-shirts and had antennae on their heads.

It added that when they saw the male celebrity they screamed excitedly and jumped up and down and, in short, they looked and acted like teenage girls.

The authority said the commercial was in breach of a clause in the Code of Advertising practice as the female actors were portrayed as, and appeared to be, under the age of 18. It also found that the girls were portrayed as sexually appealing as they had exposed their breasts to, or “flashed” the celebrity, which was an act of exhibitionism.

In light of that, the commercial was found to be in breach of the code as it portrayed “children” as sexually appealing. The authority upheld the complaint and ordered Virgin Mobile to withdraw the commercial immediately. It may not be used again in its current format. - Cape Argus