U.K. Company Pulls Ad Featuring Boy in Dress and Makeup

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Boy in commercial
Boy in commercial

British retailer and insurer John Lewis has pulled an ad showing a boy cavorting in a dress, high heels, and makeup, not because of the controversy surrounding it but because regulators say it’s misleading about what kind of damage its insurance will cover.

The “Let Life Happen” commercial for the company’s home contents insurance shows the boy dancing around his home while Stevie Nicks’s “Edge of Seventeen” plays, and in the process he causes destruction all over the house. It has drawn thousands of views on YouTube and received a stamp of approval from Nicks.

Some commentators have criticized the ad as “propaganda” about gender fluidity, while others have said it’s an example of “male entitlement.”

Conservative journalist Isabel Oakeshott wrote in the Daily Mail that the commercial was a “clunky attempt to celebrate gender ambiguity,” but she also deemed it sexist. The boy’s sister “is sitting at a coffee table quietly painting a picture,” she wrote, but eventually he “picks up her tray of paints and tips it all over the carpet, before twirling and pouting his way into the kitchen where he wreaks yet more havoc.”

“This is sexist stereotyping writ large — pretty ironic, given the message John Lewis is trying to send out with the gender-fluid star,” she continued. She obviously has a problem with gender fluidity, given her comment on Twitter:

Posie Parker, meanwhile, wrote in The Spectator that the ad “is dripping in entitlement and wokeness, starring a kid who has never heard the word no.” The protagonist “is of course a boy in make-up and a dress, because even home insurance offers now must be propaganda exercises on the mutability of gender.”

Frances Weetman, an independent politician in the U.K., had this to say about the commercial.

But John Lewis’s decision to pull the ad had nothing to do with the cultural criticism, company officials said. Regulators with the Financial Conduct Authority said it might lead buyers of the home contents insurance to think it would cover deliberate damage such as that done by the boy, when the coverage is only for accidental damage.

“You may have seen our ‘Let Life Happen’ advert for our new home contents insurance offering, which ran between 11 and 27 October 2021,” said a statement from the company, quoted by The Guardian. “This advert has been withdrawn because the Financial Conduct Authority considers the content to be potentially misleading and could cause customers to be confused about John Lewis’s new home contents insurance offering. This was absolutely never our intention.

“The ‘Let Life Happen’ John Lewis home insurance advert was created to show a joyful depiction of a young actor getting carried away with his performance, oblivious of the unintentional consequences of his actions.”

The company will contact everyone who bought the insurance since the ad came out to make sure they understood what it will cover, the statement added.

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