Upmarket department store Harvey Nichols has provoked controversy with a sign above its menswear department that reads ‘great men go down’.

After writer Rob McGibbon spotted the sign, he tweeted his annoyance at what he called a ‘double-standard’ and ‘casual hypocrisy’.

The suggestion was that anti-sexism campaigners would never let lie a sign that made such an innuendo about a woman performing oral sex.

But this example is a bit of an outlier.

Among recent adverts that have encouraged discussion about sexism, most have been accused of objectifying, belittling or stereotyping women.

Adverts that play on gender assumptions might become less commonplace when the Advertising Standard Authority’s (ASA) new rules and guidance on gender stereotyping came into force this year, but we have endured years of blatant sexism so dar.

Here are five of the most controversial ads that gathered critics:

1. Protein World’s ‘beach body ready’ ad

Mandatory Credit: Photo by REX/Shutterstock (3875788cq)nAre You Beach Body Ready - Protein World weight loss supplements advertnVarious, Britain - 2014nProtein World weight loss supplements advert which has caused a backlash from commuters has been pulled by Transport for Londonn
(Picture: REX/Shutterstock)

Back in 2015, a campaign by Protein World, a business that sells meal and diet supplements, saw complaints for its adverts featuring a slim woman in a bikini with the line ‘Are you beach body ready?’, which was plugging its weight-loss programme.

The advert was first featured in London Underground tube stations.

It drew nearly 400 complaints to the advertising standards authority and its detractors staged a protest in Hyde Park.

A petition to have the advert removed gathered over 70,000 signatures.

In August that year, the ASA banned the advert due to ‘misleading health claims’ after initially clearing the ad of objectifying women.

2. Marsh & Parsons’ ‘period property with a modern extension’ ad

Five controversial adverts accused of sexism
(Picture: PA)

The estate agent Marsh & Parsons decided to take down an advert that was part of a series playing on suggested similarities between the person in the advert and the property or area being advertised.

The advert in the series that provoked some ire showed an older man with a younger woman and carried the line ‘a charming period property with a modern extension.’

3. Co-op’s ‘treat your daughter for doing the washing up’ Easter egg advert

The supermarket changed the wording of an advert for its chocolate eggs following complaints that it was sexist.

Twitter users asked why the word ‘child’ wasn’t used in place of ‘daughter’.

Co-op altered the line so that it did not reference dish washing.

4. Harvey Nichols ‘walk of shame’ advert

Back in 2012 the store produced a television advert that showed a series of young women, with slightly different body shapes, apparently heading home in the clothes they’d worn the night before.

Each looked embarrassed and seemed to be gathering judgement from passersby.

But the last woman, who was wearing a less skimpy outfit from Harvey Nichols could, the advert implied, hold her head up high.

At the time, the ASA took the decision not to ban the advert.

5. Poundland’s naughty elf

Five controversial adverts accused of sexism
(Picture: Twitter/ Poundland)

In the run up to Christmas 2017, the discount retailer posted a series of photos on its Twitter account that took a more DIY approach to controversial advertising.

From perched astride a toy donkey to playing strip poker with a group of naked dolls, in each photo an elf figurine was placed in a risque pose featuring products that you might buy at Poundland.

Among the series, one photo that drew strong complaints on Twitter featured the elf holding a teabag over the head of a Barbie-like doll.

Following complaints, the ASA launched an investigation into the campaign.

Feature Image Credit: Twitter/Rob McGibbon


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