Alibaba programmatic ad pulled for portraying young girl in sexual manner

Programmatic ad served up via open marketplace to NewsNow and MailOnline banned from appearing again.

Alibaba ad

A programmatic ad from Chinese online retail firm Alibaba.com has been banned by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) after complaints that it had portrayed a young girl in a sexualised way.

The ad featured a girl – estimated by the ASA to be between seven and 11 years old, but “definitely under the age of 18” – wearing make-up and a high-leg string bikini, alongside two smaller images of adult female models in swimwear.

The ad appeared on NewsNow’s website in February and a month later on Associated Newspaper’s MailOnline after being served programmatically through an open marketplace. It drew two complaints from people who believed the child was being portrayed in a sexualised way, and were challenging whether the ad was responsible.

NewsNow said that it had received a complaint about the ad before the ASA’s enquiries, which triggered internal procedures to try and find the ad. It told the ASA that while the ad could not be found, it had not appeared on the website since the complaint.

ASA upholds complaint

The ASA upheld the concerns and has referred the matter to the CAP Compliance Team, ruling that the ad must not appear again in the form that drew the complaints. The ad had been found to breach CAP code rules of “social responsibility” and “harm and offence”.

The ASA told Alibaba that it must ensure future ads did not portray anyone who was “or seemed to be aged under 18 in a sexual manner. 

Of the ad in question it said: “The model, who was looking straight at the camera, also wore makeup and posed with her head at a slight angle, pushing her hair behind her ear in a coquettish manner. While not overtly sexual, we considered the pose was quite adult for a model who was clearly under the age of 18. 

“We considered that the model’s pose, in conjunction with the revealing clothing and makeup she was wearing, had the effect of portraying her in a sexual way.”

Alibaba lack of response

In addition, the ASA reported that Alibaba had not responded to its enquiries, and were concerned by the retailer’s “apparent disregard” for the CAP code. 

The lack of response meant that alongside breaches of advertising rules, Alibaba had also broken two more CAP codes, including “unreasonable delay”.


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