A Montreal fashion retailer is being criticized for an email marketing campaign that urged female recipients, some of them said to be pre-teens, to “Send nudes.”
The email from Garage bore the all-caps message “SEND NUDES” above an image of a young female model in neutral-coloured loungewear. A message below the photos urged recipients to “Swipe right on your new fav lounge looks, sleep sets, and more comfy stuff you’ll wanna get in bed with.”
The campaign appears to be an attempt to associate Garage’s line of “nude”-coloured clothing with a phrase instantly recognizable to the young women that comprise its customer base. It was quickly condemned on social media, however.
The company’s most recent post on Facebook (not related to the campaign) has amassed more than 400 comments in the past four days, most of them denouncing the campaign using language like “terrible,” “totally unacceptable,” “predatory” and “beyond inappropriate.”
One woman posted on Twitter that her two daughters, aged 12 and 14, received the email. “I’m beyond upset [that] in today’s culture this made it through marketing,” she wrote. While respondents said they were upset with the body image Garage promotes, the original poster said the email “took it to a whole other level.”
Some users on Facebook also shared what appears to be a boilerplate response to complaints from Garage. The response states that while the company recognizes that teens do shop at its stores, it has changed the definition of its target clientele to young women.
“We are 18+ and have evolved into a brand that chooses confidence, sass and empowerment to young women,” reads the statement in part. “We apologize for shocking some of you, but here at Garage we live and breathe individuality and are proud to stand by it.”
Garage’s Facebook page describes the company as “a casual clothing brand for young women who are fun and effortlessly sexy.”
It’s not the first time the retailer has ran afoul of consumers with its use of provocative advertising. A 2019 campaign featuring two young women in bikinis was denounced for objectifying teenage girls.
Garage’s PR representative did not respond to The Message‘s request for comment. Nor did Andrew Lufty, owner of parent company Groupe Dynamite, or president and CEO Liz Emiston. An email query sent to a general mailbox for Groupe Dynamite resulted in an auto-generated response noting that feedback has been shared with the company’s marketing team.
Advertising Standards Canada said it couldn’t comment on whether it had received complaints about the ad, which may contravene Clause 14 (Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals) of the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards.
There is a precedent regarding a U.K. ad that used exactly the same language, however. In 2019, the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority said that fashion company Boohoo’s use of the phrase “send nudes” in an email campaign targeting customers aged 16 to 24 was “socially irresponsible” and a breach of the country’s ad Code.
While the ASA acknowledged in its ruling that the word “nude” was commonly used to describe colours similar to those found in skin tones, it added that it was “likely to be understood as referring to requests for sexual photos, which could be a form of sexual harassment.”
Paul Davis, an online safety and social media expert who runs an educational program for teens called Social Networking Safety, said he “couldn’t believe” the ad when he was sent a copy, and that Garage’s response that it is catering to older consumers disingenuous.
“I’ve stood outside Garage at [Toronto-area mall] Vaughan Mills many times waiting for my daughters to leave…so I’ve watched kids walk in and walk out,” he said. “Even though Garage states that [it’s talking to people 18 and older], that’s a load of garbage. I’ve watched 10 year olds walk in there.”
The campaign urging people to send nudes comes as sextortion—using people’s nude photos for the purpose of online blackmail—is on the rise according to the Canadian Centre for Child Protection. The organization, which owns and operates Cybertip.ca, the national tip line for reporting the online sexual exploitation of children, says it has seen an 88% increase in reports of sextortion and other forms of online exploitation to the tip line since the pandemic began.
“When I hear that this kind of [advertising] is being approved, what surprises me is that someone has not done their homework in terms of what the impact of doing such a thing could be,” said Davis. “How did the person who came up with this creative convince another person to say ‘This is okay’?”
It is common practice for marketers to adopt (and co-opt) the expressions and cultural touchstones of younger generations for marketing purposes, and the phrase “send nudes” has become commonplace in the vernacular of the Gen Z and millennial cohorts in recent years, said Davis.
It’s also a phrase that led to at least one other previous marketing misstep. In October, Kraft decided to pull a campaign that included a pixelated image of its Kraft Dinner product accompanied by the message “Send noods” after facing online criticism. In a statement posted to Instagram stories (and screenshotted by the U.S. ad trade AdWeek), Kraft wrote: “We sincerely appreciate and hear all of your feedback. The content will be removed from our channels.”