Harvey Nichols draw complaints for ‘lesbian kiss’
Harvey Nichols have come out on top of a number of complaints against an advertising campaign which features the suggestion of a ‘lesbian’ kiss. An image of a woman inches from kissing herself is accompanied by the tagline ‘Love Thyself’.
The posters were displayed in the Liverpool branch of the store to promote a new beauty section and quickly drew 17 complaints, 9 of which claimed that the images were sexually explicit, and thus unsuitable for children, because they appeared a lesbian kiss. I know 9 isn’t a huge number, it’s less than 10 after all, but I’m amazed that 9 people felt so strongly about a woman’s mirror image having a corrupting influence on children’s minds that they sat down and wrote about it.
More than half the complaints also maintained the ads were offensive on religious grounds because ‘love thyself’ may have been interpreted as a spin on ‘love they neighbour as you would love thyself’ and thus was exploiting religious belief for commercial gain. If the lesbian kiss objection is a bit of a stretch, the religious objection seems way out of the park to me.
Harvey Nichols were quick to point out that it doesn’t portray a lesbian kiss at all, just a mirror image and, anyway, how could two people on the brink of kissing be accused of being sexually explicit. They make a good point, because some ads which don’t even venture near the extremes of what sexually explicit advertising has gotten away with still leave these mirror images in the sexual dust.
Harvey Nichols also put up the following defense:
They disagreed with the notion that a lesbian kiss might be deemed offensive, irresponsible and unsuitable for untargeted display where the ads might be viewed by children. They stated that the advertising industry should be in the vanguard of those promoting and supporting the equalities espoused by anti-discrimination laws, including those concerning sexual orientation.
Fine, fighting words but also so much rubbish in my humble opinion. There have been advertisers who do great things with a view to sexual and gender equality. Kindle have recently drawn attention for this otherwise dull ad but there is no shortage of directly pro-LGB advertising and I don’t think Harvey Nichols honestly had improving society at the top of their list when they sat down to brainstorm that ad.The pseudo-lesbian narcissistic kiss has serious selling power because it ticks a lot of boxes.
Narcissism and self-indulgence is basically the easiest way to advertise. Clever, amusing and thought provoking ads are a hell of a lot more work, much more likely to flop and more expensive to make. Chocolate, perfume, makeup and shoes are big areas which are safely sold via ‘treat yourself’. Around Christmas, that much-lauded season of goodwill and generosity, you see a lot of advertising following on the rough script of “Buy a gift for someone you really love: To Emily, love Emily.”
The transgressive element of almost, but not quite, portraying autoeroticism or homosexuality keeps advertisers simultaneously edgy and safe. The portrayal of ‘girl-on-girl’ and female masturbation has had selling power since, oh, forever and is consistently present throughout the development of Western visual canon all the way up to the current day in fine art, advertising and various pop artists.
There’s no question these ads drew complaints because they featured two women, which is more than a little depressing. The idea that two women-almost-maybe-sort-of about to kiss is so transgressive as to be an advertising image (compared with the genuinely explicit girl-on-boy advertising marketing to the same audience) also speaks volumes.