Tag Archives: Advertising


11 Apr

Many of the advertisements that I’ve featured on this blog are examples that have captured the attention and ire of the public, having appeared on various blogs, non-profit/advocacy organization websites, the Huffington Post, or other online sources. Today’s example arrived on my own stoop two days ago, along with the weekly Target, C-Town, and JCPenny ads, and various coupons. It is an advertisement-coupon combination from the cologne brand Brut, which is owned by Unilever.

Image: man with cucumber facial mask. Text: “Some men just need to be slapped.” Coupon: Save $1.00 on any Brut product.

My initial reaction: funny. This is funny. First off, they may be cucumbers, but they kind of look like pickles. Also, anyone who’s ever seen any of the other milion cucumber facial ads knows, the pickles are placed in ridiculous places – his cheeks, nose, forehead. Part of me also thought about the text as related to domestic violence and gender inequality; women suffer abuse and violence at significantly higher rates than men. In that sense, the ad and its message that men also may “need to be slapped” sometimes can be viewed as a poke at men, and a sort of leveling of the playing field. The audience for this ad is very clear: all around it are ads for women’s deodorant and cleaning materials, and the only breathing creatures featured in the pictures are White women and dogs, aside from our masked man.

After my initial chuckle, I saw the ad as falling into line with so many other examples I’ve brought to this blog, for it places men into a box. If the man “needs to be slapped,” it’s because he’s doing something wrong. But wrong by who’s standards? The implication of this ad is: men should not be interested in looking “pretty.” Also, they should be smart. With little more extrapolation, we see the classic gender roles ascribed to men: men should be strong, physical, and intelligent, not sensitive, emotional, and ignorant/dumb. Because it perpetuates these gender norms, the ad hurts men by spreading the aforementioned notions.

I repeat – the ad is funny! But without a conscious evaluation of its implication, the ad hurts women, too. If men are not supposed to wear cucumber facial masks, then by default (within the gender binary system), this is the domain of women. And yet to expect that all women should be concerned with their appearance is tremendously sexist. The ad hurts women because it indirectly forces these stereotypes on the reader, who will then either internalize or externalize the message and continue to spread it to his/her children, students, and peers. Is this ad sexist? Covertly, I say yes. It combines prejudices (the aforementioned attitudes) with institutional power – the power of capitalism. We don’t know if this ad was created by a man or a woman, but regardless it spreads a message of inequity and stereotypes that hurts both men and women.

I began this post with my initial reaction because I think it’s important to place this ad within the context of our daily lives. The ad is funny. It’s funny because it pokes fun at men, who hold institutional privilege and power in the world. It appears to “level the playing field” by giving women “the upper hand” in this very specific situation. And for that reason, very few people will speak out against this. In fact, I would bet that most men and women would defend the ad, claiming that the man does deserve to be slapped for his stupidity and sissiness. “Girls rule, boy drool,” as I heard daily in 1994. Yet beneath the shallow victory lies a much more sinister message: men and women are opposites and there are rules that they must follow. All others must be slapped.


Double Whammy of the Day: Booze and Homophobia

21 Mar

This blog has seen its share of offensive ads over the last two months, and this beauty out of Brazil is no exception. Cachaça, if you didn’t know, is a popular South American hard alcohol. In Colombia it’s called aguardiente, and both are made from fermented sugarcane. Cachaça is the main ingredient in delicious caipirinhas, and – apparently – strong enough to console you if your son is gay.

Green: Your son; Blue: You son’s buddy; Purple rectangle: Brokeback Mountain | If you gotta be strong, we gotta be strong. – Cachaça Magnífica

What’s incredible about this advertisement is that it perpetuates not just one, but TWO of the strongest and most harmful male stereotypes out there: that men must drink booze, and that to be gay is the greatest sin a man can commit. Even the language (“You gotta be strong”) and the architectural theme of the ad reinforce this notion of male toughness, intellectualism, linearity, and stoicism. They imply that every man should be a Howard Roark – a strong, brave, confident soul fighting a sea of slings and arrows. What’s brilliant (and devious) about the ad is that replicates the same societal traps that we’re all lured into; no man should ever refuse the offer to “be strong,” because that’s what being a man is all about. Thus, no man can resist relating to the ad.

The more obvious oppression that this ad perpetuates is homophobia. It suggests that a father (or mother) may need to “be strong” in a time of despair — that time being when his/her son and his buddy are watching a gay love story. Why should one be driven to the bottle by such a mundane act? Because nothing – not even watching a movie – is mundane when a man’s sexuality is on the line. In this world, male homosocial interaction signifies homosexuality. And according to our heteronormative culture, to be gay is to wrong, backward, not “straight” (crooked? as if any aspect of any life follows a truly linear trajectory), unclean, unholy, untouchable. The only solution? More booze.


On a side note, what’s also interesting about this ad is that it subtly includes a classist/racial phenomena that is – to my knowledge – unique to Central/South America and the Caribbean. Bedroom #1, adjacent to the kitchen on the left side of the blueprint, is not a room that few of us (Americans/U.S.A.) would choose to live in. It’s an irregularly shaped room, more like a hallway, with a 6″x9″ space for a bed and a shelf(?), and a bathroom which is only accessible from that room – small even for New York standards. This room, based on my travels and admittedly limited knowledge of cultural norms, is where the empleada (“employee”) lives and/or works.

The empleada, also known as the criada, sirviente, servicio, or interna, is the a maid, housekeeper, or nanny (ignore the flagrant soft-pornographic photos in a Google Images search for some actual images). 90% of empleados are women (empleadas). They are regular fixtures in many Central and South American houses. They are rarely related by blood to the employing family, but often come to hold family-like positions in the household, particularly for the children, and may stay in a household for years or decades, yet they may be fired for any reason.(More than once I’ve heard stories of empleadas being fired for allegedly stealing). They are rarely contracted or receive any formal benefits, and pay is traditionally low. They are typically responsible for cleaning, cooking, laundry, childcare, and other household tasks. The bathroom in the back is normally reserved for laundering tasks, or for the empleada only. They are almost never invited to dine with the family, but rather eat in another room, or at a separate table. It’s no coincidence that the empleada’s quarters are attached to the kitchen and only accessible through it, or that they are as physically removed as possible from the employer’s sleeping spaces.

In my experiences living in and visiting South America and the Caribbean, empleadas tend to come from low-class backgrounds and have tended to be darker-skinned than their (often only slightly less dark-skinned) employers. While this is a deeply engrained element of many Latino cultures, many, such as the International Domestic Workers’ Network and other human rights organizations, feel that the empleada tradition is equivalent to slavery. That this element would show up in a Brazilian advertisement is, in retrospect, not surprising, since it is a normal part of that culture. However, to a North American or European audience, the leftmost part of the blueprint may not make complete sense. That’s why I noticed it.

The Death of Love

18 Feb

I’m not entirely sure how long these ads have been in the New York Subway system, but regardless of which holiday they’re geared toward (I suspect Christmas), it kills me to see this ad. It tears my heart up.

Johnny Walker Black Label: There’s no need to say I love you, man, every again.

This ad is a play on the recent trend in the media highlighting homosocial intimacy. From the films I Love You, Man, Pineapple Express, and The Hangover, to the off-Broadway film Matt and Ben, to the coining of the term “bromance,” male bonding and the actions and emotions associated with it are getting new attention. From a psychosocial and gender role perspective, this is huge! Conservatives and the patriarchy have long branded homosocial relationships as being akin to homosexual relationships (while simultaneously engaging in overt homosocial activities, under the guise of “manly” hunting/fishing trips, manhood retreats,  “guys’ nights“). Through these messages of hate, men everywhere are taught that getting “too close” to another man might “make me a homo,” that close male friends might be “gay for me,” and to fear any semblance of intimacy with another man. That Hollywood, Broadway, and the national zeitgeist are accepting and promoting straight male relationships signifies a new step toward the universal acceptance and support of homosexuality and homosocial relationships.

Sadly, Johnny Walker (JW) takes this notion in the entirely wrong direction. By telling men that if they give their male friend a bottle of Scotch, they never have to say, “I love you,” JW sends the message that there’s an easy way to avoid showing emotions. JW is telling us that real men should not show emotions. The company is discouraging displays of affection between brothers, fathers and sons, and male friends. This is a tragedy, because it reinforces the messages that all men have heard since we could listen: don’t cry, don’t display your emotions, don’t touch, don’t love. The fact that JW sells alcohol is also no coincidence. The industry could show any number of messages, but the one is sends is, real men drink booze.

Unfortunately, it seems like there are very few good examples of way for companies that sell alcohol to produce thoughtful, positive messages, and still hope to sell their products. These companies have long histories of sexist ads, aimed at men, and this tradition continues today. One alternative would be to simply promote causes that have nothing to do with gender, such as one beer company’s ads promoting the NY Giants and Jets. Anyone can watch football and drink beer. Nothing in the ads (except perhaps the colors, fonts, style, etc.) are targeting toward men. Another good example of this is the Budweiser frog ads from the mid-1990s, which were hilarious (to me, at least), simple, and non-sexist.

Rather than just being neutral, though, can these companies produce ads that discourage gender stereotyping? What would that kind of advertisement (billboard, television, radio, etc.) look like?  I look forward to the ensuing conversation in the comments!


The Clothes Don’t Make The Man

16 Feb

I remember seeing the first ad of this “Wear The Pants” advertising campaign during the 2010 Super Bowl. It featured a group of men walking pantless through a field, singing some silly song, possibly relating to how they don’t have any pants but they’re still men. The role of Dockers, then, was to validate these men’s “unfulfilled manhood” by giving them something “masculine” to wear, thereby defining them as the men they are. Everyone I was with at that Super Bowl party let out a mighty groan, and I think we all figured that this ridiculous campaign would die. It troubles me that it’s still around.

“Once upon a time, men are pants, and wore them well. Women rarely had to open doors and little old ladies never crossed the street alone. Men took charge because that’s what they do. But somewhere along the way, the world decided it no longer needed men. Disco by disco, latte by foamy non-fat latte, men were stripped of their khakis and left stranded on the road between boyhood and androgyny. But today, there are questions that our genderless society has no answers for. The world sits idly by as cities crumble, children misbehave, and those little old ladies remain on one side of the street. For the first time since the bad guys, we need heroes. We need grown-ups. We need men to put down the plastic fork, step away from the salad bar, and untie the world from the tracks of complacency. It’s time to get your hands dirty. It’s time to answer the call of manhood. It’s time to wear the pants.”

Reading this ad strikes me first and foremost as ironic, since by my understanding, khakis are not manly, or sexy. Khakis are what middle management wears. Khakis are the modus operandi of the financial adviser. Khakis are the uniform of the oppressor. According to the New York Observer, “Ivy League-inflected style” was the new cool in 2009. Considering about who wears “Natural-shouldered blazers. Flat-front khaki trousers. Loafers. Bow ties, rep ties. Polo shirts in solid colors. Lots of madras plaid. Early Brooks Brothers. New England WASPs. F. Scott Fitzgerald.” and who the Observer’s target population is, you begin to get an image of what it means to wear khaki. Please, save us from khakis and blue shirts. And vests.

Style aside, is the the content of the ad that’s the most infuriating. “Men took charge because that’s what they do… latte by foamy non-fat latte…the road between boyhood and androgyny… our genderless society…  cities crumble… heroes… grown-ups… put down the plastic fork, step away from the salad bar… get your hands dirty… It’s time to wear the pants.”

The ad sends a message that men are, before anything, heterosexual. In contrast, any man who listens to disco or drinks Starbucks is gay, and therefore NOT a man. Men with any feminine characteristics are somehow stranded in “no-man’s land” (ironic, that wording), lost in the ambiguity between both lacking the biological maturity of “real men” and not conforming to the thick line we’ve drawn between “man” and “women.” They are the “victims” of a “genderless society,” or rather, a society that has no tolerance for anything other than clearly definable labels. This sad dependence on the gender binary system represents an inflexibility that brings to mind the prejudice, bigotry, and violence of homo- and transphobia.

The ad goes on to insinuate that without the presence of “real men” our society is falling into ruins, and that it’s not only affecting our infrastructures, but also the young and the elderly. Perhaps they have a point, if they’re suggesting that the widening education gap between men and women is resulting in fewer educated fathers, or if they’ve hinting at the unique legal, financial, and health challenges that elderly LGBT populations face. However, I have a feeling that social justice wasn’t on the minds of the people who wrote this ad. Instead, they are discrediting the work that men do in all areas (include those female-dominated professions), and ignoring the immense privilege that men hold in society. To say that “society is falling apart without real men” is to ignore the fact that most CEOs of major companies and government officials are men – white men, at that.

To combat these ills of society (that our (white) men are currently not fit to handle), Dockers is demanding that men stop messing around with non-worthwhile pursuits (the “plastic fork” being a reference to eating out/TV dinners?) such as eating healthy, and stick to doing “real work” that somehow involves dirt. Because, according to Dockers, being a man means working in professions that require strength, muscle, and toughness, and “answer the call,” as if that’s not what so many non-residential and non-custodial fathers, working two jobs to pay their unreasonably high child support payments, are already doing.

Dockers: the clothes don’t make “the man.” The man is whoever he or she wants to be. The man wears whatever is comfortable. He works in whatever field makes him happy (even if it’s female-dominated). He is attracted to whomever he prefers, and  fits wherever he wants within the gender spectrum. Most of all, he doesn’t wear khakis.

Superbowl Homophobia

7 Feb

I didn’t get a chance to watch too many of the commercial’s during yesterday’s Superbowl XLV, but one that I did catch that upset me was this Sealy Posturepedic Mattress ad:

[To the remixed tune of Barbara Streisand’s “Just a Little Lovin’ (Early in the Mornin’)”] “It’s better on springs. Whatever you do in bed, Sealy supports it.

Isms take on many forms; overt discrimination and violence are one manifestation, but so is absence. For example, we learn that women are worth less than men because fewer than 25% of op-eds are written by women, 24% of people interviewed in the news are women, and only 16% of news stories focus on women [1]. This lack of presence of women in the media teaches us that men are smarter, stronger, and worth more. In this same vein, sexism may take the form of absence of images of men in a variety of roles. One of these roles is as gay partners.

To be fair, it’s a clever promotion. It combines the world’s greatest marketing tool (sex, of course) with the coyness of never explicitly naming or showing it (well, aside from the musical reference). Furthermore, it sends the message, “Yes! We know that you have sex, and we support you!” Sadly, through its lack of images, it also sends a covert message about gay, interracial, and elderly relationships: all are wrong. While the ad is not blatantly homophobic, racist, or ageist, nor does it work to dispel the prejudiced messages that we constantly breathe in.

Through this ad, Sealy has aligned itself with Tatum’s (1997) notion of “smog in the air” [2]. The “smog” is the cultural racism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, etc. that we are constantly breathing in. Invisible, it surrounds us. And simply by living and breathing, each of us is poisoned by it. Only by turning on our air purifiers can each of us combat this smog and its effects. Until each person turns on their purifier, they will be subjected to the poisoned air. To truly purify our world, those forces of socialization – media, schools, parents, etc. – and the individuals who control them, must act as filters and begin to send a new message.

I challenge Sealy to retract its advertisement, and with it its closed-mindedness and exclusionary perspective. By issuing a new commercial featuring couples of all genders, ethnicities, and ages, Sealy will position itself as a true supporter of the beautiful diversity of human relationships, rather than just those relationships that contribute to its bottom line.


[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-6xsRG9PWA

[2] Tatum, B.D. (1997). ‘Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?’ and other conversations about race. Basic Books.

Applebees Knows Men

5 Feb

It took a few tries to find the commercial on YouTube, but when I finally searched “Applebees Men,” there it was:

“[4 men walk into Applebees; football on the TVs in the background; distorted guitar music plays] [Narrator] It’s a new year and time for a fresh start. [Man A] ‘What are you gonna have?’ [Man B] ‘Real burger.’ [Man C] ‘Double-glazed ribs.’ [Man D] ‘House sirloin.’ [Man A] ‘I’m gonna have one of these under 550 calorie meals.’ [throws down menu] [music stops] [camera pans to each man, looking embarrassed] [Man A laughs to himself]. Time for Applebee’s unbelievably great-tasting and under 500 calories menu. Great tasting, generous dishes like new Teriyaki Shrimp Pasta, new Sirloin with Garlic Herb Shrimp, and more. All under 500 calories, and starting at $8.99. [cut back to table; food arrives] [Man B] ‘That’s under 550 calories?’ [other guys try to steal his food]. Only at Applebess. There’s no place like the neighborhood. Open until midnight or later.”

So what’s happening here? Applebees is teaching a number of misguided lessons through this commercial. The first is that men are tough, sports-loving, carnivorous beings. Male bonding can only happen in the presence of food and competition; anything else would be far too feminine. That Man A’s companions laugh at him for choosing one of the <550 cal menu items reinforces the notion that heathy eating is not the activity of “real men”. This is no exaggeration; I’ve experienced this identical situation when ordering salads at restaurants. The fact that those companions eat their words (no pun intended) at the end of the commercial is irrelevant; the damage has been done – Man A is still the low man on the totem.

The commercial replays the classic homophobia that Kimmel calls the “central organizing principle of our cultural definition of manhood” [1]. The companions’ emasculating behavior mirrors the homophobia that shames men and boys who do not live up to society’s definition of “masculine.” Seeing this ad on TV made me furious, but I imagine that the general public reaction was not so critical. Indeed, when I raised a fuss afterward, my partner said to me: “Lighten up, TCM. It was funny.” Was it?


[1] Kimmel, M.S. Chapter 33: Masculinity as Homophobia: Fear, Shame, and Silence in the Construction of Gender Identity. In Adams, M., Blumenfeld, W.J., Castaneda, R., Hackman, H.W., Peters, M.L., & Zuniga, X. (Eds.) (2000). Readings for diversity and social justice. New York: Routledge.

Inherent Differences

31 Jan

Riding the train today I was struck by the advertisements for New York University’s (NYU) School of Continuing and Professional Studies (SCPS). They’ve been up for a while (certainly, if NYU’s marketing department is smart, since long before January 5th), but never before had I noticed the highly gendered portrayals they depict. Not only do the ads visually present men and women has being different “types of students”, but the word clouds surrounding them suggests inherent differences in abilities and intelligences.

The images of the two “students” suggest stark differences between men and women. Women are smiling, pretty, sensible, unprofessional, and simple. They’re also confused, so it’s important to tell them when Informational Sessions start. In contrast, men are serious, studious, focused, dressed for success, and technologically and intellectually superior (hence the glasses and hands-free telephone headset). Unlike women, they already know that they want to conquer the world, and how to do so. No need for Information Sessions, just let them know about the astronomical number of courses you offer, and they’ll put their own “world in context.”

The word clouds above the images are perhaps more insulting. Here’s the breakdown (in no particular order):

  • Men: Web Tools, Intellectual Property, RSS Feeds, ETFs (Exchange-Traded Funds), Translation and Interpreting, Nonprofit Portfolios, Public Speaking, Investor Relations, Global Opinion
  • Women: Jazz, Tannin, Modernism, Concept Art, ESL (English as a Second Language), Emotional Quotient, Cinematography, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), Obama

Men, of course, are encouraged to go into finance, technology, business, law, and nonprofit (but only to fill roles that involve public speaking (to the media?) and portfolio development (i.e., governance and leadership)). Women, on the other hard, are far more qualified to study the fine arts, education, psychology, culinary arts, OSHA (public policy?), and – not sure what to make of this one – Obama? (political science? doubtful).

Why is this obvious sexist representation of the genders damaging to both men as well as women, despite depicting men in a positive light? Here’s why: stereotypes may be “good” (e.g., women are peaceful) or “bad” (e.g., men are aggressive), but they are never entirely true. Thus, stereotyping is always harmful, because it reinforces and confirms our preexisting notions that do not always apply to everyone. Over time, these stereotypes morph into prejudices, which inform our behaviors, which may span the spectrum from microaggressions to overt discrimination (e.g., hiring practices) and violence.

Furthermore, by showing men as driven, powerful, analytical machines, fit to work in high-paying fields, we learn what boys and men are “supposed to be.” The reverse is equally true. By portraying women as sensitive, emotional, and caring individuals who should be in the kitchen, classroom, or studio, we learn what men are “not supposed to be”. Not being to live up to these gender normative expectations causes men to feel guilt, shame, and fear. And we wonder why, in the West, middle-aged men account for 40% of all suicides. [1]


[1] Gambotto-Burke, Antonella; The Eclipse: A Memoir of Suicide; Broken Ankle Books, 2003; pp.16.