«Are you a student out of money? Date a sugar daddy».
The advertisement was for the new dating service Rich Meet Beautiful, where women could sign up to be «sugar babies» looking for male «sugar daddies.» Last week Universitas reported on the controversy, with many saying the billboard could be illegal if considered promotion of prostitution.
Now it is over almost before it began. After massive criticism, the Consumer Ombudsman of Norway has concluded the advertisement is illegal, and all promotion must stop as soon as possible.
«I don’t feel bad»
The man behind the website, Sigurd Vedal, seemed unconcerned when he spoke with Universitas originally.
«I don’t feel bad about it. Rich Meet Beautiful is a website where 75 percent of the members are women looking for successful men. They come to us. I’m very ecologically minded, and I would feel worse about driving a car,» Vedal said.
When asked if the website promoted outdated gender roles, Vedal shrugged the question off.
«Sugar babies on the site can have whoever they like. If they can pick between a handsome, broke med student without any real-life experience or success, and a handsome, well-off older man with experience and success, they’ll often pick the latter,» he said.
He added that «sugar babies» on the website are often ambitious, and are therefore attracted to older men who can be a kind of «mentor» to help them start their own career.
Kristine Sørheim, Leftist Alliance (Venstrealliansen) representative in the student parliament, condemned the site.
«This is unbelievably insulting. What an archaic way to look at women,» she said.
She added that the relationships the website champions are unacceptable. «Such huge power differences in a relationship are unhealthy, and create an idea of women’s bodies as something that can be bought. It’s a romanticizing of prostitution as a profession,» Sørheim said.
Now the Consumer Ombudsman has concluded the advertisement is illegal, and the company should be shut down as soon as possible.
«The advertisement encourages female students to start intimate relationships with rich men for financial compensation. While the women are portrayed as barely clothed, the men are wealthy and successful. This kind of advertising clearly breaks rules regarding gender equality in marketing and is therefore illegal,» said Elisabeth Lier Haugseth, Consumer Ombudsman, in a press release.
It is illegal to exploit bodies or to create an oppressive assessment of men or women in advertising.
Vedal says he is not certain how he will handle the case moving forward.
«I’ve sent the letter from the Consumer Ombudsman to our lawyers. We’ll take it from there,» he said.