Is portraying a tied-up woman with a face smeared with cake cream and a man standing over her an appropriate way of advertising a mall? The Women's International Zionist Organization (WIZO) and Tel Aviv Municipality don't think so.
The women's group on Monday asked the owners of Arena Mall in Herzliya, Menofim Finansim, and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai to remove immediately the massive billboards advertising the mall's reopening on claims that the campaign is in violation of the ethics rules governing advertising and offends the sensibilities of the general public, and of Tel Aviv residents in particular.
It appears that the Tel Aviv Municipality accepted WIZO's claims, saying that "the signs were put up without municipal authorization and are in opposition to its discretion. Urgent removal requests were already sent yesterday morning to the owners of the company and are slated to be carried out tonight (Monday night).
"In addition, the company has been issued with a number of fines. Later in the day, a letter of intent will be sent to them clarifying that should the ads not be removed immediately, their license will be revoked."
'Campaign sends appalling social message'
One of the prominent locations of the billboards is in front of Azrieli Mall. The letter sent by WIZO to Huldai describes them as "presenting violent pornography with pedophilic characteristics on a level unseen thus far on billboards in the public sphere, even in 'Tel Aviv country.' WIZO asks of Huldai – as mayor, you are responsible for a legal and safe public space free from offenses to the public's sensibilities."
In a letter to Menofim Finansim, WIZO wrote, "Your choice of a pornographic advertising campaign is of bad taste and sends an appalling social message. This is bad choice for an advertising campaign (which displays violent sex and a pornographic message) that bears no connection between it and the advertised subject (a mall).
"It is unclear to us why you did not choose a sophisticated, innovative, and interesting idea to advertise the mall under your owners, and instead chose to sink to the lowest, harshest, and most banal level.
"Why did you agree to such a terrible campaign? A campaign that offends the public's sensibilities and damages the image of the mall, which is said to service families without the objective of resembling a strip club in which violent sex is perpetrated on young girls and women.
"We wish to give warning that should the campaign not be removed immediately from the billboards, we will consider all legal and civil means at our disposal."
'Promotes violence against women'
Fashion chain Comme-Il-Faut also took note of the campaign and wrote a letter to Menofim Finansim requesting that it be removed. "We are contacting you with a demand for the immediate removal of the sexist campaign that is saturated with humiliation of women for Arena Mall. This campaign, which makes a connection between its content and fashion has deeply horrified us with its content that is filled with tremor-inducing pornographic content, sexism, violence against women, and a clear correspondence with sexual violence against minors.
"It is incomprehensible to us how you initiated and authorized such a campaign, openly encouraging violence against women and girls on billboards. With this, we demand that alongside their immediate removal you issue a public apology to the women and girls in Israel in order to emphasize that it was a mistake and not a deliberate intention to knowingly harm this public.
"It need not be mentioned that fashion does not tie itself to sexual violence towards women and girls. As a fashion company, we are experienced and know that this business arena can and must encourage the empowerment of women in society instead of their degradation and oppression, encourage the full and respectable promotion of women instead of their objectification.
"We are saddened that in your promotion of fashion-related content, you chose to promote content known to encourage sexual violence towards women and girls in society.
"On the assumption that you are aware of the gross violation of the ethics laws governing advertising this campaign represents, we are left with nothing else but to expect that it be immediately removed. We will be sure to pass on your apology to all interested parties. In the case that this is not done and the degrading and pornographic campaign continues to be shown in the public sphere, we will do all in our power to spread our protest together with women's groups in Israel."
Ad agency: We censored billboards
Menofim Finansim responded, "We received the letter now, of course after it reached the media outlet. We understand WIZO's bid to garner advertising capital at Arena Mall's expense.
"To the best of our understanding, there are no offensive messages in the campaign. The campaign is based on a photography exhibit of leading fashion photographers in Israel as a nod to the great fashion houses in the world. In any case, we are passing on WIZO's letter to our legal advisors for review."
Guy Weinberger, the deputy CEO of Zarmon Goldman, the advertising agency responsible for the campaign, said that "this is an artistic project in every sense that seeks to promote a fashion photography exhibit at Arena Mall and position Arena Mall as the most fashionable in Israel.
"This campaign is an homage to the iconic fashion ads of all times from brands like Sisley, Benetton – photographs that shaped the history of fashion advertising and became the foundations of the fashion world.
"We took photographers like Guy Kushi, Ron Kedmi, Dudi Hasson, Navit Fine, Yaniv Edri, and Ido Izsak and asked them to make their own version of these prints. While there will be nudity in the exhibit, we censored the billboards so there is no nudity in them at all.
"Our objective is to test boundaries here, not to offend. However, this campaign is clearly still loyal to fashion's values by being memorable, sensationalistic, provocative, and evocative of a strong emotional reaction.
"We were pedantic about presenting pictures that display strong women, women who enjoy their sexuality and their power. There is as play here on mischievousness that seeks to remove the excessive seriousness from the matter. There is humor here. There was not intention to offend.
"There are also photographs showing a fully dressed woman grabbing a naked man by the balls or a woman walking on a man's back. It is a very self-aware campaign that is in line with fashion advertising in the world. The world of fashion is always looking to redefine, as is our campaign. It calls on the public to join in the debate on what is permissible and what is forbidden."
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