A social media advert for East Midlands taxi company ADT Taxis has today drawn ire from students and women in the region with the release of a sexually explicit image supposedly intended to encourage young women to book taxis when drunk. Students at Loughborough University are demanding a boycott of the company, while others have publicly tweeted to the effect that they will no longer use ADT; meanwhile, the advertising agency possible has been dismissed.
The image, which appeared on Facebook about 16 hours ago, shows two young women, framed by a doorway, opening on to what appears to be a student bedroom. One is curled on the floor in a foetal position, her jeans around her ankles. The other crouches over her, an expression of apparent distress on her face.
While the first student retains her knickers, the focus is very clearly on her crotch. No attempt is made to anonymise facial details for either individual, who are both clearly identifiable from this picture – nor to cover over the first woman’s naked rear or crotch.
A caption to the image states: “be safe. Don’t overdo it… Adt it!”
Shortly after the original picture was spotted, campaigning organisation The Everyday Sexism Project took up the baton, calling on Loughborough University and Loughborough SU to boycott the company. This, in turn, called out a response from ADT’s Twitter account. They tweeted: “its [sic] called humour…now get back to your daytime tv, you miserable pc brigade.” They also briefly republished the picture, with both the women’s faces anonymised and the more sexual elements censored by means of strategically placed cut-outs.
However, this too was promptly taken down, and the ADT Twitter account became temporarily unavailable: a decision, we are told, that was taken by ADT’s own managing director.
Such a turn of events is unlikely to be good for business. Describing themselves as “Loughborough University’s reputable taxi and private hire operator for the last 10 years... with a fleet of over 100 vehicles”, they clearly depend significantly on business from the local student community.
“Based at Loughborough University on campus, our shop at the students' union is open 24 hours a day during term time," continues the ADT website. "We are fully licensed and undertake most of Loughborough University’s transport needs.
“Our rank is there for you, we have plenty of cards on Union nights, to reassure you that you are going home in a vehicle operated legally by Loughborough University’s reputable taxi and private hire operator.”
A spokesperson for the university confirmed that they do have a rank on site, but that this is subject to agreement with the Student Union and is in no way endorsed by the university itself.
We also spoke to a representative of the Student Union, who described themselves as “horrified” by the campaign. However, according to this same individual, the problem lay not with the taxi company directly but with their media agency, who have now been dismissed. This followed advice from Loughborough SU and took place within minutes of the company’s proprietor understanding what had happened.
Whether this will be enough to avoid a major loss of business is unclear.
As news of the ill-advised campaign spread, a number of students expressed disgust, with several stating they would never use ADT again. The university's Vice Chancellor has been asked to respond on the matter.
A spokeswoman for national campaigning group, Ending Victimisation & Abuse, added: "Images of vulnerable women being used as a marketing tool is one that we've surely grown out of. It seems not, if this advertisement is anything to go by. Regardless of whether they've 'overdone it' or not, we'd recommend using a taxi firm that is respectful towards all people - vulnerable women included."
This is not the first time that ADT appear to have used sexualised imagery in their social media advertising. A shot taken from their Facebook page, dated 13th September, depicts a topless women holding her breasts with the accompanying text: "That got your attention... Now remember our digits!" followed by the taxi company's various regional phone numbers.
A spokesperson for Loughborough University said: "This campaign by Ashley David Taxis (ADT) is totally unacceptable.
"Ashley David Taxis are an independent company, who rent operating space on the Loughborough campus."
An apology published on the ADT website stated: "Contrite apologies. The offensive tweet and response came from an agent who we misguidedly appointed to act for us on social media. We have dismissed them.
"We were horrified when we saw what had been put out on our behalf and even more so when we saw the rude response to @everydaysexism pointing out the issue.
Many apologies to anyone who has been offended. This absolutely does not represent ADTs [sic] values. We are very sorry for our error of judgement in appointing an unsuitable agent, at this point we can only apologise and make an assurance that we will make a more careful appointment in the future."