Wednesday, December 17, 2008

my fellow marketeers, or why i hate being in a marketing department

Alex Leo posted, what seemed to me to be, fairly reasonable remarks about sexist trends in advertising:
This was a big year for women: The first serious female presidential candidate, the first predominately female state senate, the first female Top Chef. Yet the advertising world has not caught up to the advances of half our population and continues to use stereotypes and violence to prey on our most vile desires. Here are the worst of them--the trends that won't die despite our cultural outrage, and personal boredom.

continue reading...
I was appalled, though not surprised, at some of the hateful responses readers posted. While I don't agree with all of Alex's analysis regarding the ads in question, I do agree with her overall point. I got into it a little bit with some of the commenters on the site, which I know is an exercise in futility. But sometimes it's fun to argue. Anyway, I've cut and pasted the exchange below. I get kind of high-horse-y in places, but if you read some of the earlier comments before my post, you might have a better understanding of why I ended up with that tone. (Parental units, please note that there's some harsh language used here.)

Flushy McBucketpants said...

i think a number of you are missing the point of what this post is about. (or maybe i am?)

it seems to me that this post isn't in opposition to sex in advertising. it's against perpetuating what should, at this point, be outdated and unacceptable modes of thinking about women—the idea that women are sex objects and should be subservient, that their reason for being is to please men.

the post's author does not complain about ad campaigns like the one that Dove ran not too long ago featuring "real" women in their underwear or the Marithe & Francois Girbaud take on Da Vinci's last supper (, which are both sexy, eye-catching, and tasteful.

just as there would be an outcry if there was an ad-campaign depicting people in blackface, people should be upset when women are treated like sex toys.

it is offensive. and in this case it's also dehumanizing.

Flushy McBucketpants said...

furthermore, regardless of the narrative that the viewer places on these images, they all have a clear subtext. You may not see the Dolce & Gabbana ad as as explicitly a gang rape scene, but it would be hard not to see it as an image depicting male dominance—a man appears to be holding a woman down while a group of other men look on without any of them showing a hint of misgiving. she's just an object for them to take advantage of.

the BMW ad is sexualizing a model with a very young features. while the model may in real life be of age, that does not seem to be what they are hoping to depict. and it doesn't excuse what seems to be an endorsement of pedophilia.

as for the LAMB ad, maybe there are societies where getting jizzed in the face is a noble deed to be trumpeted and applauded—the last ceremonial act before being crowned queen (or king) of all the land. but generally in the US, at least, it's considered somewhat degrading, and is often nothing more than the climax of male power fantasies.

for those of you that have the urge to defend these ads. stop and think if for a second. are you in favor of perpetuating male dominance? should children be portrayed as sex objects? were women put on this planet with the sole purpose of pleasing men?

i like beautiful, naked people. i like sexy ads. i don't like these ads.

David Kendall said...

Flashy, your post confirms that we each view an ad through our own eyes, bringing to it what we want to bring.

Now, I'm not trying to defend or attack the ads -- in a country where there's freedom of expression, even in advertising, you can't stop people from depicting whatever they think will sell their product -- unless you stop buying the product. But my point is sex sells, so they use it.

If you're objecting to the "objectification" of women, ANY ad does that. It then becomes a question of degree. I mean, you can't have "beautiful, naked people" and "sexy ads" without objectifying the subjects in the ad. A naked girl advertising soda is still naked, still an object of desire (supposedly), and is still being used to hawk a product, whether she's standing in the street, sitting on a bench, or lying on a bed with a guy.

The same is true about a beautiful girl, in tight jeans and a t-shirt, hawking the same soda. You're attracted to the girl, and then you notice the soda.

Same with the ads for men's cologne on tv -- you see guys with 6-pack abs playing soccer, and then you're told about the product. ALL advertising with models is objectifying the subjects for the sake of the product (unless the ad is simply a picture of the product). And ads that depict pseudo-rape, or purported "pedophilia" are simply pushing the envelope as far as they can before they alienate the consumers to the point where they won't buy the product.

As I mentioned before, the ads are not going to create the desire in people to rape, or stalk children, or act like sluts. They may attact people with those predipositions to the product, which is the point of advertising, but they don't cause the problem, and they don't perpetuate it. They feed on a pre-existing attitude for the sake of sales.

Flushy McBucketpants said...

David—I agree with you that all understanding is subjective. However, I wasn't intending for my argument to be about personal perception or semantics, but rather about social perception, social norms, values, and morals.

I do not believe that men will go running about gang-raping women upon viewing the Dolce & Gabbana ad. However, I do believe that images like that both reflect and help perpetuate patriarchal tendencies. When images like that are presented as a selling point instead of in a critical light, it only reinforces those kinds of gender roles whether you're interested in participating in a dominant–submissive relationship, or whether you're just interested in socially interacting with the opposite sex. We see the effects of male dominated society everywhere, from the gender split in classroom participation, to who runs the country (politically and economically), to the picture people imagine when they think of the words scientist and homemaker.

If I had a daughter I wouldn't want her bombarded by images of submissive, subservient women whose value lies in their ability to get men sexually aroused.

Objectifying people for beauty and objectifying people for sex are two different things (though there is often crossover). But it's not simply a matter of objectification. It's also an issue of respect for women and general decency. I may sound like some pro-censorship conservative whack-o, but I don't believe I am. I just want the people making these ads to be more judicious in their representation of people. I don't know why that's such a difficult thing to accomplish.

MarcWPhoto said...


Re: I just want the people making these ads to be more judicious in their representation of people. I don't know why that's such a difficult thing to accomplish.

It's not difficult to accomplish. However, the people who make ads are not being paid to do what you think they should do. They are being paid to do what their clients ask, which is to get people to buy their clients' goods and services. If your way worked better, they would do that.

If your way does work better and they won't do it, the obvious answer is for you to open your own ad agency and laugh all the way to the bank.


Flushy McBucketpants said...

Marc, I understand that people are paid to do this. But I'm pretty sure I gave a couple examples (Dove's "Real Women" campaign and the Marithe & Francois Girbaud Last Supper of ad) in one of my comments above that successfully used sex and beauty but in less dangerous ways.

Just because one way works doesn't mean another way doesn't. And just because one works doesn't mean it should be used. Company's use bribery and espionage all the time to turn a larger profit and get ahead of their competitors, that doesn't make that kind of behavior good.

Just because one type of ad helps generate profit doesn't mean that (a) it also doesn't have detrimental effects and (b) there aren't other ads that would work just as well without the negative effects.

Frankly, this type of advertising (e.g., the D&G ad) is not just morally reprehensible in many ways, but it's also unimaginative and lazy.

Yes, it's the ad agency's job to give the client what it wants, but somehow I doubt that the client asked for an ad that could be construed as representing gang-rape.

MarcWPhoto said...

The difference being, bribery and corporate espionage are against the law. :)

If D&G shared your opinion about the ad, they could have just not used it. Since they are a billion-dollar fashion icon and you are, well, Flushy McBucketpants, I am not yet convinced that they are idiots and you are superior in your evaluation of what sells and what doesn't.

If it makes you feel any better, the ads have been banned in some countries and the US will doubtless follow in their progressive footsteps at some point. Eventually you will win.


Flushy McBucketpants said...

It does not make me feel better that these ads are banned. That's not really what I'm looking for.

I am looking for some compassion and consideration, some respect for fellow humans.

When these kinds of ads are the outliers, it's not so much of a problem. We can look at them and say, "Wow. That's provocative." When these ads are the norm, they prove to be both reflections of society's accepted norms and also buttress those cultural standards.

I think promoting misogyny is wrong, whether it helps you earn money or not. That many people appear not to care about our society accepting and promoting misogyny just shows how heartless those people are.

Obviously this upsets me.


Shiny said...

I read it all and it actually bothered me a lot. Either you were conversing with people who were deliberately dicking around...or. Or. Ug, I hate to think people are this thick, though. Is it really possible?

They kept going on and on about sex selling, not seeming to understand that it was NOT about sex, it was about degradation, debasing the feminine...but what, that's just "sex," I guess?

It's really hard for me to believe people are this clueless. It is not possible.

Flushy McBucketpants said...

I'm way shocked that anyone actually read all of that. There's actually another couple of rounds of arguments in the original blog's comment section that devolves into a back and forth about rape and it's rationalization (or the lack thereof).

I'm continually taken aback by men and their complete obliviousness, though it doesn't surprise me much because I used to be similarly ignorant (though I'd like to think I didn't often display that ignorance).

I went to a screening of Rad—a cheesy '80s bmx movie co-starring
Lori Loughlin of Full House fame—with some friends a couple of weeks ago and there was this group of 10-or-so punk/skater guys who just kept yelling out the most horrible misogynist shit (attempting to be funny) every time Lori Loughlin appeared on screen.

I spend most of my time with fairly considerate, nice people. Despite the dismay it conjures, sometimes it's good to be reminded how the rest of the world acts. If nothing else, it makes me feel pretty good about the decisions I've made in my life.

Nicholas said...

I agree with you in the aspect that most people are missing your point, what exactly is it? What exactly is your problem about how "reprehensible" it is that women appear in adds and can express a sexual desire that some women actually have?

If the female form bothers you so much, we could force women to cover up in the adds, kinda like they do in the Islamic countries. They also have no rights, including the right to "exploit" themselves for money.

Are these things that you construe, such as the gang rape, or are you just looking for something to promote whatever agenda it is that you think you are on a moral high ground for? Or are you just looking to complain about something?

No one has said anything remotely offensive to you from what I can tell, they have just shot your weak and shoddy arguments full of holes as none of it makes any sense whatsoever.