In an otherwise friendly pub in Tooting I came face to face with this advert. There were four of them; one above each urinal, whispering into the ear of every man in the pub, behind the back of every woman.
It’s no surprise to find misogynistic advertising filling these spaces, using women’s bodies to sell things, but these ads were selling women directly: StrictlyConfidential.co.uk is a nationwide directory for prostitution.
The sleek cleanliness of the advert contrasts with the sleazy vibe of the usual prostitution directories like The Sunday Sport, and it felt to me like a well considered attempt to neutralise prostitution. (Later on I did some research and found that two directors of the majority shareholder in the website are actually Nick Appleyard and Mark Harris, the Editor and the Managing Director of the Sunday Sport!)
So I complained to the pub – with a friendly email – explaining what the ads are for – in case they didn’t realise – and why they are inappropriate. I asked others to write too and with their input I drafted a letter to Wandsworth Borough Council querying whether the pub was in breach of its license and hi-lighting the council’s obligations under the Public Sector Equality Duty.
Several days later, when there was still no response from the pub I sent the letter off to the council plus another polite email to the pub letting them know about it, and my intention to write some online reviews.
Suddenly, less than an hour after sending the email, I had a response from the owner of the pub-chain. Far from the dismissal and accusation of prudery or similar that I expected, I got an apology: ‘I agree with all the points you make, the ads will be taken down immediately’ to paraphrase.
And it didn’t stop there; the owner had immediately informed AdMedia – the company who manage the adverts – and they were removing them nationally. AdMedia claim they were misinformed and had no idea what the adverts were for. Their Head of Operations has been in contact with me and I will be speaking to him to find out more.
Because the ads were taken down, the council closed their investigation and passed the info onto the police to investigate (if they wish to do so). So unfortunately the council have managed to avoid taking a position on the issue.
This all happened with relative ease, which I think shows that the prostitution business are more susceptible to public pressure when they step outside the safety of their usual territory because they are reliant on other agents like the pub who don’t want to lose their license and the ad agency who want to protect their reputation.
It’s a good strong message to StrictlyConfidential that they face opposition, though I doubt it will slow them down for long. So, I look forward to causing Nick Appleyard, Mark Harris and friends a few more headaches in the future.