Sexy coffee ad offends prudish Swedes

Coffee brand Lavazza has received a rap on the knuckles for its Swedish ad campaign after the Trade Ethical Council against Sexism in Advertising (ERK) judged it to be discriminatory.

“Intercoffe marketed Lavazza coffee. The pictures showed a woman lying on a bed drinking coffee, wearing a flight captain’s cap and a uniform shirt. The shirt is unbuttoned and the woman’s bra is visible,” according to ERK’s description of the offending campaign.

Johan Sandberg from Intercoffe, the company that represents Lavazza in Sweden, is also critical of the campaign, but from a purely marketing standpoint.

Lavazza’s campaigns are initiated centrally in Turin. Sandberg argues that negative publicity could have been avoided by a better knowledge of the Swedish market.

“I can see the whole environment. And taken in context it could be wrong.

“It doesn’t build the brand. People see the woman, not the coffee,” Sandberg told The Local.

As far as he is aware this particular Lavazza campaign has not run into difficulties in any other country.

Sweden’s Ethical Council has a lower tolerance for the use of scantily clad women to advertise products than comparable regulatory bodies in other countries.

“Throughout Europe there is a big difference. If you just go over the bridge to Denmark you see that they accept a lot more,” ERK Secretary Jan Fager told The Local.

ERK is a self-regulating, private body that has existed since 1988. The organisation bases its decisions on the ICC International Code of Advertising Practise, but has also added three supplements to the ICC’s Article 4 dealing with sexism.

A total of nine people complained about the Lavazza campaign. But the ERK reserves the right to act spontaneously and does not require a flurry of protests to charge an advertiser for ethical breaches.

Regarding the Lavazza campaign, ERK judged “that the woman is used as an eye catcher without any connection to the advertised products, and that it is insulting towards women”.

In its defence Lavazza wrote that the 2006 calendar from which the images were taken used humour and irony to recreate a 1950s feel. The company claimed that the images depicted glamour, style and a lust for life and were in no way discriminatory.

Jan Fager disagrees. In his opinion it is not acceptable for an advertisement for coffee to be sexy in the same way as, for example, an underwear ad. He noted that while H&M has come in for much criticism from the general public the company’s Christmas campaigns have never been found in breach of ethical standards.

“Although the Claudia Schiffer campaign was borderline,” said Fager.

In its written judgment the ERK maintained that Lavazza had not lived up to the principle “that advertising should be formed with due regard for social responsibility”.

Four members of the council argued that the campaign was “insulting towards women in general”, while three members disagreed with the judgment.