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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Really, Advertisers?


Another blog written in Minnesota: I didn't plan to talk about television advertising again, but I saw yet another commercial that has me irritated over the portrayal of women. My college major was advertising and I understand why women are used in ads for products aimed at men. The problem is how women are portrayed.
The latest example is a commercial for Armor All. A man comes out in a bathrobe because he hears noises in his garage. A Viking-like male is in there and he's holding a box of Armor All products. The first man admits that the product was a gift from his brother and the Viking guy says he doesn't deserve it or the car (that's covered in dirt). So far, it's fine.
Then comes the part that I didn't like: a scantily clad woman prances out (and I use the word prances deliberately), looks at the guy she's sleeping with, looks at the Viking, and as the Viking leaves, she prances after him.
Really? Really Armor All? Women are so brainless and fickle that they'll follow some strange man dressed up like a Viking because he's got a clean car?
The number one offender in my opinion is Axe personal care products for men. They're the ones who had a commercial where a man was portrayed as his hair style and the woman as a pair of breasts. That was downright offensive.
Their latest campaign for their Apollo line features a woman in jeopardy (fire, shark attack). She's rescued by a man (firefighter, lifeguard) and instead of thanking him, she spots a man who uses Apollo products and brushes past the man who saved her because Women love astronauts.
I don't have a problem with the saving part; I consider that a legitimate ploy for the ads. What bothers me is the subtle message being transmitted by the way the women are portrayed. It's not just Axe. It's not just Armor All. It's a message being sent in a number of ads to young men and women who watch television and it's not a positive message.
I'm not na├»ve. I know women have been portrayed as objects in advertising for a long time, but there's something different about the current trend. It's not just that it's 2013 and we should be beyond this—although one would hope we, as a society, would have grown up a bit more than we have—it's the idea that women are that brainless. I hate using the same word over and over, but it fits the scenario. They're like Stepford women, nothing more than robots to satisfy males.
When I was in advertising ethics class in college, we looked at using sex (and women) to sell products. We examined print ads, which granted are different than television commercials, but I think it will sort of illustrate the difference in how women were used back then as compared to how they're used now. (Heavy emphasis on the word used.)
The one ad that really sticks in my memory was for liquor. We see a man and a woman alone in an upscale living room. He's in a suit, she's wearing a black dress that's sexy, but wasn't so revealing that a woman in real life wouldn't wear it out for an evening with her guy. The models are sharing a drink and a suggestive look. In the corner of the ad was a bottle of the liquor being advertised and a glass with ice cubes. The ice cubes definitely had a phallic arrangement, but that would be something picked up subliminally. Most people wouldn't look at a print ad long enough to notice it consciously.
In the liquor ad, the couple are portrayed as equals. They're both interested in each other—it's a choice they're both making.
In the TV ads today, women are not equals. Women aren't even portrayed as people in the Armor All and Axe commercials. Women are merely objects for the man to take or not take as he wishes.
I've been trying and trying to remember if this brainless, Stepford portrayal of women has been around and I just hadn't paid attention, but I don't think so. I tend to study ads and notice nuances and trends because I got used to doing this while I was in school. This seems to have popped up within the last five years or so and it doesn't seem to be abating, not when the Armor All commercial really didn't need a woman in it at all to get the message across, but they put one in anyway.
Why do I think this is happening? Leaving the larger societal issues for the professionals, I'll speculate that it's laziness on the part of the advertising community. Sex sells, but instead of being subtle about it—which takes some time and cleverness on the part of the copywriters—let's just throw it out there because that's easier.
This lack of subtlety is something I've seen across a broad swath of commercials, not only the portrayal of women as sex objects. Ads have hooks. When I was trained, the copywriter tried to camouflage the hook with a carefully wrapped worm. Now, the ads like maybe try to yank a worm on the hook, but don't do a very good job with that. In fact, I've wondered for a while if viewers don't notice the tactics advertisers are using to reel them in or if the advertisers just don't care if their target market sees their hook.
Whatever the reason, though, this portrayal of women needs to change. There's a big, big difference between using a woman's sex appeal to sell products to men and objectifying women so that they're nothing except sexy brainless robots. I've had enough of the Stepford women.