A Harvey Nichols campaign which was claimed by its critics to feature “offensive” images of lesbians kissing has avoided censure, after the department store responding to complaints by arguing that advertising should promote equality.

In late 2012 Harvey Nichols began an ad campaign for their ‘Beauty Bazaar’ in Liverpool. It featured images of models posed as if they were about to kiss their mirror image with the text “Love Thyself”.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received 17 complaints about the ads.

Nine complaints said that the ads were “offensive, irresponsible and unsuitable” because they showed lesbians kissing.

Ten complainants said the ads were “sexually explicit”. Two said that the phrase “Love Thyself”, combined with the image, was offensive on religious grounds.

Harvey Nichols responded by saying that the “Love Thyself” slogan and the image itself made it clear that the ads featured one woman kissing her mirror image, rather than of lesbian couples.

They went on to argue that even if the ad had featured two different women kissing, images of lesbians were not offensive or inappropriate and should be accepted by the ASA.

Harvey Nichols said: “The advertising industry should be in the vanguard of those promoting and supporting the equalities espoused by anti-discrimination laws, including those concerning sexual orientation.”

On Wednesday the ASA said it would not uphold the complaints.

The ASA said: “We acknowledged that some complainants had interpreted the posters differently and had understood them to depict a lesbian kiss. One person also mentioned a young child who had not identified that the kiss was between one woman and her mirror image.

“Although we recognised that some people might have found what they perceived to be a portrayal of a lesbian kiss distasteful, we considered that a reference to homosexuality in an ad would be unlikely in itself to cause widespread or serious offence or constitute irresponsible advertising.”