Advertisements: A Happiness Machine?

Even bad publicity is publicity. No news is bad news. Always judge a book by its cover.

Sometimes, I think that advertising agencies actually live by the previously mentioned type of mangled adages in order to draw attention to the products they represent.

Most of us remember the advertisement for Dolce and Gabbana, which to all intents and purposes intimated a stylised gang rape scene. The woman is prone and fully clothed, wearing stilettos; her long hair is artistically splayed out on the ground behind her head, and that all the toned males are oiled within an inch of their lives. This makes no difference; the connotation is there.

Sex sells. Ask Abercrombie and Fitch, or Calvin Klein. Ask Heinz of mayonnaise fame, too, for that matter.

Have we not had enough of women fighting tooth and nail over the last pair of shoes in a shop? Aren’t we sick and tired of gorgeous people drinking alcohol is exotic or palatial surroundings? What about the advertisements that imply a woman is not worth her salt if the members of her household cannot eat off the floor (never mind that she has thrown out her cooker and invested in a tin opener and a microwave instead)?

I remember the fuss that had been made when Martina Navratilova had worn a Kim t-shirt during a tennis match. Back then, product placement was almost unheard of – since then, it had become a megabucks industry.

However, it is not only sex that has become a toy in the hands of advertisers. Subjects previously regarded as taboo – including death, suicide, homophobia, gender discrimination, disabilities, religion, and poverty – are also being recycled for schlock value.

Take the silly Snickers advertisement in which two men “accidentally kiss”. The gay pressure groups were not too pleased about it… and in fact, the bumph was pulled because of the total number of complaints it engendered.

Next in line – literally and figuratively – came the robot in the GM assembly line. Endowed with the human foible of perfectionism, he actually contemplates ‘suicide’ after dropping a bolt.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, inevitably, sent the company a letter that said humans might be encouraged to see suicide as a “solution” to problems. This might happen especially if the person already feels depressed. Apparently, the company does not feel it has to stop the advertisement, because it only received “a handful” of complaints.

Suicide was also the theme of a Pepsi Max advertisement, which shows a bean-shaped “very lonely single calorie” ending it all… and, ironically, even Dior got on the death bandwagon by advertising a lipstick with the words “New! Dior Addict Lipstick to Die For…in 30 killer shades… Get hooked. Now.” which had the added nod to substance abuse addiction.

Technology brings with it new ways of insulting women – whether or not they are included in the following list: artist; aspiring actress; athlete; bookworm; businesswoman; celebrity; cougar; dancer; foreign exchange student; Goth; Indie Rocker; married; Military girl; nerd; out-of-your-league girl; political girl; princess(?); Punk Rocker ;Rebound girl; Sorority girl; Tree-hugger; Trouble (presumably with an upper case T); twins; or Women’s Studies Major.

Sci-fi buffs who used to watch Quantum Leap would remember that the series is mainly about the adventures of Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula), a scientist who becomes lost in time following a botched experiment. Al (Dean Stockwell), appeared to him as a hologram, and therefore only Sam and a select group could see or hear him.

Sam spent each episode in the body of a different persona – into which he would have leapt at the end of the previous episode, usually with his trademark expression “Oh, boy!”

What is of particular interest is the apparatus Al holds in his hand; through it he connects with an artificial intelligence called Ziggy, and other entities, and a few clicks of colourful, noisy, keys, usually produce information relevant to the situation.

Now it seems that this contraption was nothing but the precursor of an iPhone. Indeed, an Application for this gadget consists in keying in the “category” into which a female “falls”, and the ‘system’ will give you chatting-up lines and whatever else is needed to hit on her… going as far as to describe itself as “…a roadmap to success with your favourite kinds of women..”

Does this mean that “un-favourite kinds of women” are easier to impress because they would be thankful that someone – anyone? – would be paying them attention? On the other hand, does it mean that women who cannot be pigeonholed into any of the above categories do not deserve any attention at all, even if they do happen to desire it at any given time?

Oh, yes, I am fully aware that there are advertisements equally insulting to men who are portrayed as dweebs who are unable to mop a floor or change a nappy without making a mess. Nonetheless, these adverts are usually played for laughs – they do not sexualise or objectify the men.

The other day I read a spoof advertisement that went “… nine out of ten lawyers prefer this filing system – and we’re negotiating with the tenth one.” This is the reasoning behind all those slogans which tell us that we cannot be without something, or that we deserve it, or that most people prefer it to any other, or that failing to obtain it is tantamount to ruining our lives and those of the members of our household… including the pets…

The latest in a string of quasi-obscene adverts that use and abuse women comes from The Foundry, responsible for the Jamieson’s Raspberry Ale campaign. Snow White – renamed “Ho White”, lies in bed with her seven friends, now called the likes of Randy, Filthy, and Smarmy, blowing smoke rings. Disney, of course, was not too pleased about this. The advertising campaign site, which I tried to access as I write this, informs me of “English and French domain names for sale / noms de domaines en Français et en Anglais à vendre.”

Should we, as women, be boycotting products and services that debase women, or use subject matter that is aesthetically or morally offensive to use? To take this further, should we support companies that try to pull wool over our eyes by making exaggerated, unproven claims for their products?

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