//** * * */

Sexist ads - hot, cold, too soon or too late?

"Advertising didn't mix sex up with our daily lives. The great Marketeer in the sky did that"
-- Barry Brooks

See this ad to above Presumably, a real ad from a bygone era, but with a message about wives and household appliances so firmly entrenched in our collective consciousness that the Superficial writer uses it for comedic effect as he drools over Mary Louise Parker from the HBO show "Weeds" posing nude in a kitchen: "Now, I don't want to be one of those chauvinistic guys who says a woman's place is in the kitchen, but this is definitely the way to get a man to buy you something nice. Like a toaster oven. Or that frying pan you've got your eye on."
(btw - I've already mocked how HBO sells that show by slipping into something uncomfortable)

Friday last week moreonion blogged Sex, Stereotypes and advertisement -

The funniest part is that most advertisers claim that their advertisement works. When talking about values that are communicated through their ads you're likely to hear that they don't have that much of an impact.

And there he hits the nail on the head. I keep repeating this but I firmly believe and the power of advertising. If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't think that any sort of raising issue awareness advertising could ever work, from Greenpeace to Unicef, Red Cross to Amnesty - but I have created ads that have changed peoples perceptions of things, and I know that advertising does work. I've also helped trot out an entire generation of children in diapers but that's the other side of the same coin. (Babies wear diapers, not children, see comments). Advertising has this funny way of dodging its otherwise so proudly touted effectiveness as soon as someone pins fat children or anorexic teens on it.

Google image search for sexist ads, and you'll find plenty of examples, old as well as new. Even ads aimed at ad(men) show quite a bit of cleavage, it's as if some adpups just don't know how to tell a story without breaking out the cookie-cutter stereotypes. I've said it before, sexist ads are bad for everyone, not least our collective imagination. Media is a powerful speaker and feeding junk into it which screams louder for each turn only creates a feedback loop that amplifies as we go round and round.

Will it stop without us resorting to laws to prevent them? EU wants to ban sexist ads, and in Sweden, the often mocked ERK (ethical advertising committee) "ban" almost everything sent to them, though said ban just prevents the ad from running again and does little to deter anyone from keeping up outrageous campaigns. Meanwhile in Denmark just across the pond, the Danes just sip a milk or cult shaker and say "chill, you uptight Swedes, willya?"

Is it too soon to mock them? The sexy model used as eye candy can be clever like in this organ donor ad, or horribly wrong like in the BK "blow job" ad. Shall we laugh at the woman whose secret to incredible skin is that she swallows? Ba-dum-dish.

I leave you with a few more examples of ads that cross a line. The photos of Lindex rather boring underwear campaign "take three, pay for two", shows that people created a campaign of graffiti against the ads, tagging them with the words sexist and "object" (as in objectifying women) on every single poster site where it appeared. The paint was removed in a day or two, but if the public reacts so strongly to a couple of images showing off the actual underwear for sale, it might be time to start listening. At the very least, know that you'll soon be paying extra for the paint removal.

Of course, some people count on this and go out of their way to create a campaign sure to offend in the hopes of gathering more press for their lazy shill. It is "I don't have a good idea, so lets stick some tits in here". Lazy creative is insulting in so many ways.

Below that is what is dubbed the most sexist ad of 2008 - a man in a strapping (and seriously expensive) suit has a lingerie clad model draped across to hood of his equally expensive car. The image may be interpreted as if he has strangled her with his tie.

Then there's an ad that ran in the Linux journal 2007, Don't feel bad, our servers won't go down on you either - which feministing points out is also "directly insulting its audience. It plays off of a stereotype that everyone knows-- haha, guys who like computers are nerds, and nerds don't get any sex".

And that is probably what bothers me the most about sexist ads. Sexy doesn't bother me (but there's a time and place for it and 94 sheet posters outside of preschools with Calvin Klein kids having half-orgies is in my opinion rather tacky), I mind misogyny and sexist stereotypes. The latter cuts both ways and insults men as much as women. It's we own you with hormones Mr Reptile brain as much as it is "hello girl, you are object to be desired only". And as always, it's lazy creative.

I hope that this is the beginning of a blog relay, where we may hear other ad-people and ad-bloggers perspectives on sexist ads. I'll link each post that carries this conversation on, I would like to hear your points of view.

Adland® works best in Brave browser. Adland® is supported by your donations alone. You can help us out by donating via Paypal.
Anonymous Adgrunt's picture
Files must be less than 700 KB.
Allowed file types: jpg jpeg gif png wav avi mpeg mpg mov rm flv wmv 3gp mp4 m4v.
Dabitch's picture

Related (should have been mentioned in this post) The evolution of Evony ads - or "more boobies makes more clicks!"

kurtberengeiger's picture

I'm sorry, I could live with some of these examples, but that Duncan Quinn advert is just all wrong. I mean really wrong.

Dabitch's picture

Yeah you'd think a brand whose "prices start at $3,900 and climb as high as $30,000." (source) for a suit could afford classier advertising.

adbroad's picture

Thanks, DB, for the insights and imagery. All of these are pretty appalling but I agree with @Kgeiger--Duncan Quinn wins. What was up in that presentation?

Creative Turk: "Yeah and here we'll have the guy wearing your suit drag a half naked woman by her neck over a car hood."

Cool-hunter Brand Manager: "Excellent! Embodies the exact essence of our brand. (Wha? Sadism?Misogyny?) It's a go!"

I think those of us tasked with creating mass media visuals have to begin to take responsibility for their cultural impact.

Dabitch's picture

Honestly how that one ever made it to print is beyond me.

Neo's picture

That is quite disturbing, but I guess if you can fork out $30,000 for a suit you can afford to make dead women disappear.

I find shit like this more annoying though. reinforcing gender stereotypes kills our personal identities. We are not all made for little boxes.