Friday, December 4, 2009

Dirty minds...?

Did you see the "shiny suds" ad? It was pretty effective at both telling consumers something they didn't know, and going full viral on YouTube.

But according to AdAge, for a few viewers the image of scrubbing bubbles leering at the showering women wasn't really about chemical residue, but something even nastier:

"Little did attendees at the ANA [Association of National Advertisers conference] or most commenters on YouTube and Twitter know, however, that the Shiny Suds were really about degrading women and promoting rape, at least in the opinion of commenters on one blog, Shakesville, which posted the video in its "Today in Rape Culture" section."

Here's one of them:

"I have issues with being seen naked. I even have to turn over books or magazines that have pictures of people looking out on them when I'm undressed because I feel like they are staring at me. So, reading the transcript for that last commercial? Freaks me the fuck out. My skin starts crawling again even thinking about it."

In response to "the sensitive nature of [concerned viewers'] concerns", the advertiser, Method home care and personal care products pulled the official online placement of the ad. But, of course, copies live on forever.

So, what do you think? In my opinion, there was no ill intent in the spot. It fit within Method's cheeky brand, which speaks to "people against dirty", and the perverted bubbles were obviously meant to make people think about the nasty stuff they share their showers with — after using mainstream competitors' cleaning products. It's over the top, for sure, and the woman does look victimized. But this is cause marketing (in support of the Household Product Labeling Act of 2009) — and while self-serving for Method, touches on an important issue of home health.

Maybe the lesson here for advertisers is just to realize that everything out there will be deconstructed to the Nth degree. The shakespearessister online community's reaction to this ad was oddly paralleled by a post on Brand Freak where a poorly-executed Swiss Chalet Xmas commercial that concluded: "The girl seems depressed, and it's heart-wrenching to contemplate what kept them apart so long and why they're so tentative around each other. Did he molest her? Was it divorce? Did the mother die? This is a lot to consider in a 30-second ad."

Some ads just bring out people's inner demons, I guess. But this is a lot to consider in a Friday blog.


  1. I don't know, Tom. I watched it before reading your comments. I think the key problem with the ad is that the woman's demeanour goes from initial shock, to clearly uncomfortable. There is a definite air of coercion in the spot, in both the way she is standing, her expression, and her reluctance to bend over and pick up the dropped soap. The immature group chanting of "loofah" is definitely reminiscent of school yard bullies, whose universal goal, whether directing their taunts at men or women, is ultimately public humiliation of the subject. Whether this spot feeds into the culture of rape may be an extreme reading of it, but it is, in my opinion offensive. If she were smiling and laughing, say dancing to the loofah chant, and maybe scrubbing herself, that would be different: it would be highly sexual (which I'm sure lots of people would complain about as well), but not voyeuristic and creepy, since she would appear to be a willing participant in that context. In the current ad, she is clearly not.

  2. Thanks, Bonnie!

    I also got an interesting comment from one of my female friends on Facebook that I want to excerpt here:

    "Mostly I am baffled that it was created the way it was, because they could have made the exact same point by ending it sooner, and it would have been funny."

    Which leads me to wonder if their point was take it that much further, to be truly bullying and threatening in the end. Maybe it's one of those things where you, as a viewer, are supposed to be sucked in, then exposed for your own insensitivity — like the last episode of Seinfeld?

    Who knows? But I can't imagine that the dark turn at the end was unintentional. I just think the intention was to make women feel really creeped out by what they were spraying around their homes — not to put them down.

  3. Women battle every day against the fact that we are vulnerable. No matter how confident, how successful, how kick ass we are, we are acutely aware of our potential to be victimized. There is always a niggling fear in the back of our minds that someone could overpower us and assault us, even in broad daylight. We try not to dwell on it, but it is a simple fact of being a woman. We have to be careful.
    Does this ad play on that fear? Definitely. So it's successful from that perspective. Add to it your reading that "the intention was to make women feel really creeped out by what THEY [my emphasis] are spraying around their homes" and we perhaps have another problem with this approach. Such a reading brings the whole "women are responsible for their own vulnerability", and "are just asking for it" discourse to a soap ad. I for one, do not want to be told it's my fault that others objectify me.

  4. I just found it uncomfortable... and it didn't have a resolution that made me want to go buy 'Method'... tho i love Method. Now I don't want to clean my bathroom at all. Not that that's anything new...

  5. Since people have complained about everything else, I'll summon up my own tiny supply of self-important moral outrage and complain about the use of the verb "deconstruct."

    The whole point of the Deconstruction critical theory fad in the 60s, 70s, and 80s (may it rest in peace) was to prove the impossibility of meaning. In the 80s and 90s, however, journalists and columnists outside of academia started using "deconstruct" and "deconstruction" to try to sound clever, but ironically, they used it to describe the search for hidden meaning (exegesis), which is pretty-much exactly what Derrida was arguing against.

    ... presuming, that is, that it's possible to know whether Derrida was arguing against anything at all, or even arguing, or that we can really establish a connection between the word "Derrida" and a person who may or may not have lived ...

    Oh yeah, I remember: that's why everyone gave up on Deconstruction.

  6. As for the Seinfeld parallel, this only works if one is already insensitive, and then has the realization that "oh, I was being insensitive. As a woman, I was never "sucked in" because I am already acutely sensitive to the woman's situation.

    By choosing to echo the "woman as vulnerable" discourse (intentionally or not), the advertisers are bringing the weighty issues of women, vulnerability and objectification to their ad. If an ad has a burning cross on a lawn, even if it's in a "humorous" context, it will bring all those issues of race, discrimination, etc. to the ad. I imagine that it could be done well, and as I said in a previous comment, had the woman been smiling or laughing, it might have worked.

  7. I completely agree with Bonnie.

    There are so many ways the creative could have gone with this that would have empowered the woman instead of demeaning and victimizing her. Maybe she refuses to shower and comes back the next day with her Method products and gets rid of the dirty bubbles.

    As viewers, we get that the chemical bubbles are "nasty" but to equate them with sexual bullies? Perhaps they are physical enemies--attacking our health but then they should make her cough not perform a striptease under duress. They did everything but lock the door behind her.

    What boggles my mind is that in addition to what this says and represents about women in society, the ad is most certainly off brief. Who buys the majority of home cleaning products? Women. Here's some common sense for the creative team: You do not sell to women by making them feel victimized in their own homes (even if you're trying to villainize the competing products). It just goes to far. Women buy products from companies they perceive as respecting them, as understanding them.

    I'm sure the boys who wrote this think it's an over reaction to call it violent but that's just what it is. This woman is not taking control and gaining power over her attacker, she is cowering. She has become subordinate to the bubbles. Fistfuls of propaganda have been using this same message to imprint on women the idea that we are inferior. Now an ad about cleaning products is joining the ranks by continuing the erosion of confidence, dragging in a bit of sexual guilt and ensuring that we remain insecure and dependent. And don't even get me started on the fact that SHE cleaned the tub in the first place...

    Shame on them for having such minimal respect for and understanding of their target audience. Shame on them for having such disregard for women.

  8. Fact: This commercial clearly promotes rape.
    Fact: This commercial was produced entirely by males.
    Fact: Method created this commercial uniquely as mysoginistic propaganda.

    The above is painfully obvious.

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