The Media Development Authority (MDA) has thrown its weight behind the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) in the latter's bid to remove the Abercrombie & Fitch advertisement at KnightsBridge on Orchard Road.
The ASAS council declared the suspension of the four-storey-sized ad on 12 September, but because it lacks the legal right to enforce its decision on the American clothing label, it has since turned to government agencies to back its call.
On Thursday, MDA's director for content and standards Amy Chua said that the agency "support(s) and encourage(s) ASAS to exercise the full weight of its industry influence to follow up and effect its decision", although reiterating that outdoor advertising here is still self-regulated by the industry.
ASAS chairman Tan Sze Wee told Today that their next action will be to contact the Building and Construction Authority about the removal of the advertisement, which features a shirtless male model outside the Abercrombie & Fitch store.
The ad shows the model's chest and torso, drawing attention to his hands pushing down his low-slung jeans. It is displayed across the entire front window of the four-level store, due to open on 15 December.
In an earlier statement, the ASAS said that the U.S. casual wear retailer’s ad, announcing the launch of its first outlet in Singapore, was suspended “due to breach of the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice guidelines on decency".
According to the Code, advertisements should not contain anything that is offensive to the standards of decency prevailing among those who are likely to be exposed to them.
Speaking in more detail about the ad, Tan said, "The general consensus was that the portrayal of the human anatomy had crossed the path of decency because the navel line was very much exposed."
Members on the ASAS council include representatives from media owners, advertisers and government agencies, stakeholders in the advertising industry who voluntarily comply to the decisions made by the authority, as well as its Code of Practice.
The American clothing brand, however, erected the ad on its own, and not through any of the media owners or advertisers sitting on the ASAS council.
Tan said that the ASAS then contacted KnightsBridge mall owners Park Hotel Group, requesting the removal of the ad, but was instead told to get in touch with the fashion chain directly, as they were the ones who put it up.
ASAS's subsequent attempts to contact Abercrombie & Fitch's office both here and in the U.S. were not answered. Tan said that the ASAS wrote to the company on 14 September.
In the meantime, Tan said the ASAS welcomes the MDA's backing, saying, "We emphasise that it is important for stakeholders and industry players to work hand-in-hand to improve the standards of advertisements in Singapore, given that this is a self-regulated industry."
Media and entertainment lawyer Samuel Seow said that agencies such as the MDA may be able to enforce its removal, under the Undesirable Publications Act -- should the MDA find that the image of the male model in the ad exploits human nudity.
When contacted, Abercrombie & Fitch spokesperson Tom Rivard, who is based in Britain, said that the label is "investigating the matter and is not in a position to provide a comment at this time".
The clothing brand's ad came under public scrutiny as early as in June, where some readers on citizen journalism portal STOMP said that the ad was vulgar, while others writing into newspaper forums described it as “indecent” and “lewd”.
In response to the feedback given, the ASAS council reviewed the ad before deciding that it was objectionable on 31 August.
Singaporeans whom Yahoo! Singapore spoke to, however, have mixed views about the ad.
Part-time marketing manager Marilyn Ong, 55, was more amused than offended by it.
“(It’s) a bit daring, but it doesn’t really bother me because I would just laugh at it,” said the mother of two, acknowledging at the same time that her friends would probably feel embarrassed if they were to see it.
“I suppose it is in our culture (to be conservative), though, because if my in-laws see this, they will peng san (faint),” she added.
54-year-old volunteer worker Gilbert Wong disagreed, saying that he felt it encouraged sexual activity.
“It’s quite awful,” he said, noting that as an Asian society, Singaporeans are not ready for such explicit images. “We are open, but I don’t think we’re ready for that extent of openness… perhaps two or three generations down the road might be fine with it, but not us,” he said.
Advertising industry professionals also noted the sensitivity of Singapore's community, citing the ad's inappropriateness here in particular.
"We must remember that outdoor advertising here rightly has historically been sensitive to the multi-cultural society that is Singapore; we are not a mono culture -- so partial nudity in advertising is generally not acceptable," said JCDecaux Singapore CEO Ashley Stewart, in a report by Marketing-Interactive.com.
"But what really surprised me was the speed of ASAS' response," he added. "The ad's suspension (came) many weeks after it was posted, so it had already achieved the desired effect. The job had been done."
Abercrombie & Fitch is no stranger to controversy, having also made headlines in Singapore last month for its policy of hiring good-looking front-line workers.