Ad called bit of fun by company but critics see it as reverse sexism.

A popular beauty chain's use of a near-naked male model in a provocative ad campaign highlights a double standard in advertising, says an expert in gender equality.

The Body Shop campaign, launched this month, features a man's torso with a large bottle of shower gel tucked into his towel. Its slogan says, "Wake up with a Big One".

The Advertising Standards Authority's code prohibits using sex appeal to sell an unrelated product - but no one has complained about the large posters.

And that doesn't surprise University of Auckland School of Psychology associate professor Nicola Gavey.

Advertisement

There was a distinct difference in how people viewed sexualised images of men and women, she said.

People found images of naked women more offensive because they reinforced negative stereotypes, but often did not feel the same about such pictures of men.

She said women were more likely than men to be judged harshly on their looks and sexual behaviour.

Body Shop New Zealand managing director Barrie Thomas said most customers saw the campaign as "a bit of fun" and a tongue-in-cheek response to the many images of near-naked women seen every day in advertising.

There had only been a couple of negative comments online and a couple in-store. One staff member had replicated the image on the company's Facebook page, attracting comments such as "tough day at the office", and "you're a sexpot".

Wellington woman Janine Boon looked twice when she saw the larger-than-life advertisement in a central city store.

Boon took to Twitter to convey her disgust. She believes the ad is blatantly sexist. "I'm not a prude but it's just wrong. It strikes me as reverse sexism."

She said if the same campaign exposed a woman in the same way there would be an outcry.

Advertisement

Last year there were 68 complaints against advertisers using sex appeal in ads. Six were upheld or settled.

This included a Carl's Jr BBQ Burger with two women in bikini tops and shorts competing at a cookoff with a voiceover talking of "barbecue's best pair".

One of the most complained about ads showed men and woman dancing in underwear. It was thrown out on the grounds viewers had taken an extreme interpretation of the images.