May 30, 2014 -- Two darling toddlers dressed as rockers and accessorized with shades, guitars and skateboards are eye-catching models in a new Huggies diaper ad now airing in Israel. The little girl turns her denim-clad bottom to the camera, striking a provocative pose. She adjusts the boy’s tie, and we are sold.
“[It’s] the cutest thing on the screens right now,” one viewer tweets on the YouTube channel that features the ad.
The ad campaign also includes billboards featuring the same babies in playful poses with the line: “Huggies Jeans, the most important item in the wardrobe.”
But critics say the ad, created for Kimberly-Clark Corp. by McCann Erickson Israel, and tame perhaps by U.S. standards, sexualizes children. At least one comment on YouTube describing it as “revolting.”
Sara Ivry of the online Jewish Tablet writes: “As the parent of a toddler, I agree, in part: diapers are vital. Their being pseudo denim is not.”
Some parents have called it offensive and called on McCann Erickson Israel to pull the ad for making “child pornography.”
“One irate individual on Twitter likened what he saw in the ad to the poses of prostitutes found in the windows of Amsterdam’s Red Light District,” Ivry writes. “Hoo mamash magzeem, as they’d say in Hebrew. That seems like an exaggeration.”
Alan E. Lawrence Kazdin, a professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University, said, “This video is in a long string of similar ads.”
“Twenty years ago, we would have thought this ad was weird and bad,” he told ABCNews.com. “Think about the context. There are greeting cards with children dressed up as adults kissing each other in a romantic way. Dolls are provocative and children as young as 4 and 5 wear over-the-shoulder fashions. On TV, high school students have children. Shows have sex in the title. Who’s watching these? There is huge sexualization all over the place.”
Kimberly-Clark spokesman Bob Brand told ABC News in a prepared statement that the ads were approved by The Second Authority for Television and Radio, the public authority in Israel.
"Since we launched a special edition of the fashion Huggies jeans commercial celebrating color and fun a few weeks ago in Israel, a small number of consumers have shared negative reactions with us, although the response to the product and the commercial remains overwhelmingly positive," he said. "In fact a number of parents have shared images of their babies wearing the denim diapers.
"We respect consumers’ opinions and will continue to listen closely to the feedback. We are acutely aware that our brand is based on the loyalty and trust of moms and dads who use our products on their babies every day. We certainly regret that anyone might have been offended, that was never our intent."
The Irving, Texas-based company has no plans to pull the ads, which has not run in the United States.
McCann Erickson Israel offered ABC News the same statement as Kimberly-Clark.
Many parents were shocked in 1981 when a then 15-year-old Brooke Shields famously posed in a Calvin Klein Jeans commercial with the tag line: “You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.”
Fast forward to 2011, when child model Thylane Loubry Blondeau, who had been modeling since the age of 5, appeared in a sexually charged pose in French Vogue at the age of 10. The Parisian preteen, made-up, dressed in high heels and haute couture, reignited a debate about that ended up in the French legislature about messages young girls receive about beauty and sex.
Yale’s professor Kazdin says that Americans have in some ways normalized this kind of advertising, but a recent report from the American Psychological Association is damning.
A 2010 task force report of the sexualization of girls cites numerous examples in “virtually every media” -- television, music videos and lyrics, movies, magazines, sports media and video games.
“In study after study, findings have indicated that women more often than men are portrayed in a sexual manner (e.g., dressed in revealing clothing, with bodily postures or facial expressions that imply sexual readiness) and are objectified (e.g., used as a decorative object, or as body parts rather than a whole person),” it says. “In addition, a narrow (and unrealistic) standard of physical beauty is heavily emphasized. These are the models of femininity presented for young girls to study and emulate.”
Kazdin said “in some sense these ads are tame.” But, he warned, “We don’t want them to be tame, because they are provocative and we know that videos and not just violence, are a serious problem. Now we know that watching TV is modeling and can change the brain. We don’t want to legitimize the bar going lower for too many things. And this bar is low.”
But commenters on the YouTube video of the ad seem to disagree.
“I don't see anything sexual here,” TheTubePortal writes. “They are just posing for fashionable diapers. What kind of sicko interprets this as sexual?” And Josh Apple writes: “I have two small kids and I have dealt with my fair share of diapers. If you think disposable underwear that will most likely be full of p*** and s*** is sexy then you need help. Sexy isn't the word that comes to mind after dealing with my little boy's upset tummy and the bio hazard that is left behind.”