Showing posts with label Women. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Women. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Bicycle ads say moms' lives are all about housework

What year is it again? 1954? 1964?

Two thousand fourteen, you say? I'd never know it from looking at this Huffy Bicycles campaign by Brunner, Pittsburgh. (Via Ads Of The World.)

The insight of cycling as a way to break free from life drudgery is a nice one. But what makes up the majority of these moms' lives? Housework, of course! Dishes! Dusting! Laundry!

Sure, there are many women who still stay home to raise their kids. And the hard work and sacrifices they make are important and worthy of respect. But to define those women's lives through housework is like giving one of them a vacuum for Christmas. It says "this is who you are. This is your job. This is what is expected of you." (Gods forbid a husband stay home, or even lift a broom, eh?)

The only hint that this campaign is from this decade, century and millennium is one execution that has the woman using mobile devices; not for any professional purpose, mind you. Just to kill the time.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

How far can Justin Trudeau push his female appeal?

There's no denying Canadian Liberal leader Justin Trudeau's charisma. He's got his dad's name and his mom's looks. He's young. (Well, younger than me, anyway.) And he is riding high in the polls on trendy issues like legalizing pot.

Women, in particular, like Justin. I can still recall a Millennial woman colleague getting all all "twitterpated" when he sat behind us on a train to Montreal.

All of these factors make the promotional poster above, from the Liberal site, for a "ladies' event" fundraiser, a no-brainer. But that's kind of the problem.

One part rock star politician, one part "hey girl" meme, this promotion is not subtle about using sex appeal to position Justin as a champion of women's issues. But will it work.

Maybe. But that won't stop me for calling it out on placing style and stereotypes over substance.

Thanks to Kayren M. for the tip.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Barbie joins the RCMP, goes ginger, in Mountie/Mattel cross-promo

Via The Mountie Shop

Cue the "she always gets her man" jokes. (Oh wait, the Globe and Mail already did that.)

The red-haired northern Barbie was briefly available directly from the RCMP's official e-commerce site before being completely bought out by what I can't help but visualize as hundreds of Mr. Smithers clones.

Via Tumblr
Here's the product description:
The Dolls of the World® Barbie® collection celebrates travels with Barbie® dressed in the ancestral clothing of her country. This Barbie® Doll of the World hails from the land of the maple leaf, maple syrup and the maple donut: Canada! Part of the Pink Label collection, RCMP Barbie® is dressed in the uniform currently worn by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or Mounties, as they are widely known. Her scarlet tunic is accented with the cross strap and belt, navy and yellow breeches and tall Strathcona boots while her Stetson can be removed to reveal her bright red hair. RCMP Barbie® comes in keepsake travel trunk packaging and includes a “pink passport” for the perfect way for Barbie® to travel across Canada, and the world, in style!
I'm not sure the fitted tunic is regulation. (Her waist sure isn't!) And the loose hair wouldn't pass inspection. Plus, the pants aren't exactly that figure-hugging:

As one of Canada's most recognizable brands, the RCMP dress uniform lends itself to all sorts of cross-promotions, from collectible coins to Cookie Monster dolls.

The National Post reports that the RCMP's licensing fee from Mattel will go toward at-risk youth programs.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Queen's University featured in sexist old MGB video

The Facebook page Vintage Kingston shared this hilariously outdated 1960s promotional clip for MGB cars, set at my alma mater, Queen's University:

My Mom went to Queens around this time. I'll bet it wasn't nearly as hilarious to live through that sexist era as it is to look back at its primitive views on women.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Do undemanding consumers get the brands they deserve?

These Australian ads for Lean Cuisine, by woman-focussed agency Hello I'm Venus, presumably represent the culmination of a great deal of research and insights regarding female consumers. ("We’re here to help you ‘get’ women" is their selling proposition.)

When featured on Campaign Brief, however, the ads drew a litany of criticism.

Here's a sample:
"It's patronising, dated, sexist and lacking any understanding of women let alone loyalists to the brand."  
"Venus is an agency which specialises in advertising to women, and supposedly they get women better than a regular agency does. 
Does this then mean that women are as vacuous and empty-headed as these ads suggest they are? Because this stuff is straight outta 1955." 
"This has to be a shit stirring prequel to the real work because if a guy came out with this, he'd be laughed outta the boardroom and branded a sexist pig."
Compare this to the PR version:
Bec Brideson, founder of Hello I'm Venus: "This campaign reinforces the nutritious,convenient options for women that Lean Cuisine provides. The campaign is a cheeky shoutout to her. We know that behind every successful woman is her microwave." 
Tara Lordsmith, Simplot Australia general manager of retail marketing: "Our loyalcommunity of over 55k Facebook fans have told us they enjoy the cheeky and sassyattitude that comes with the Lean Cuisine creative. The development of this campaigndemonstrates our understanding of the modern woman and her vision to succeed in allaspects of life."
The Facebook page in question does, indeed, have over 57,000 fans, and the level of customer engagement is high. They post endless "girly" captioned pics like this:

259 likes, 4 comments, 25 shares
From a pure marketing perspective, they're doing something right. (Socially, anyway — the case study doesn't list any actual sales objectives or results.) So why does the campaign leave such a bad taste in some people's mouths?

It's the difference between consumer and critical audiences.

Lighthearted stereotypes and platitudes are popular online, even though they reinforce old-fashioned gender clich├ęs. (Some Campaign Brief readers identified the era these ads belong in as not '50s but '80s.) Hello I'm Venus didn't invent the "sassy single professional woman" trope, nor did they popularize it. They're just riding the wave.

Campaign Brief, on the other hand, attracts ad people. And ad people are brutally critical of ads that other ad people do.

I have to agree with the advertiser, Ms. Lordsmith, on one thing. People are identifyimg with this brand on Facebook.

414 likes, 10 comments, 90 shares
This vacuous, superficial brand.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Bra campaign attempts to redefine "MILF"


Online lingerie company True&Co is hoping to earn some buzz by branding their new custom-fitted bra campaign as "Mother I'd Like to Fit" or "MILF".

Of course, "Fit" is not the f-word used in the more commonly used acronym. And they launched it using photos submitted by fashion bloggers who for some reason wanted their children to be in these pictures.

Reactions on Facebook ranged from "LOL! Love this" to "Nothing funny about this Milf joke".

Now the company is running a Mother's Day contest:

I really don't mind if women want to jokingly self-identify as mothers someone would like to... umm.. fuck. I just find that including their kids in the picture is kind of icky.

Tip via Adrants

Friday, March 8, 2013

My first feminist hockey ad #IWD2013

This is an ad we did for agency self-promotion as a sponsor of the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship (April 2-9, here in Ottawa). We do a lot of sports marketing, but this time around seemed like a perfect opportunity to look at it from a social issues marketing point of view.

From Change Marketing:
...we are proud to be a part of women’s hockey. As fans, as parents, and as Canadians we are inspired by the hard work and dedication of Canada’s National Women’s Team. We also hope our women on the ice will inspire new generations of strong and fearless Canadian girls. That’s why we created this print ad for the WWC event program. And since today is International Women’s Day (that’s what the hashtag above is for) we thought we’d share it early.
 Happy Women's Day.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

My favourite Barbie photo in the history of ever

Copyright Julie Lauren. via

No, it's not one of Mariel Clayton's psychotic Barbie shots. Or even this old Body Shop ad. It's a photo just published by a Facebook friend, Ottawa photographer Julie Lauren.

Julie's pictures tend to explore the awkwardness of human bodies, held in contorted poses or expressions by other people, duct tape, or plastic sheeting. Her new series on dolls, however, is particularly interesting. Laurie has been gleaming thrift shops for old Barbies and related dolls and accessories, then creating interesting compositions with them.

Of all of them this one struck me as particularly meaningful. It says so much about the spectre of body image that looms over young girls as they consume magazines, fashion ads, and of course gendered Barbie play.

The setup of this shot was dead simple, all done in camera with backlight, paper and toys. For those interested, Julie explains the "making of" on her blog

But I'm more interested in the final effect: the pudgy little girl casually glancing over her shoulder, but not yet fully aware of the impossible perfection forming in her subconsciousness, with special emphasis on her sexual parts. 

I could go on and on, but this picture is worth more than a thousand words. Well-done, Julie.

Yes, it's British ladies rapping in a bathroom about feminine hygiene

I really don't know what else to say. Mooncup is one of the brands that started the whole "Vagina! Vagina! Vagina!" trend of making women's sexual organs part of everyday conversation. Which isn't a bad thing. It's not so much the subject matter here that strikes me as awkward. It's the tired Limey rap parody. (Plus, Fiat did it way better.) Anyway... Tip via A Girl's Guide to Taking Over the World

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Weight loss ads appear on pro-anorexia Tumblr posts

Buzzfeed is a funny place. Although still dominated by lazily-recycled content, it is continuing to build a reasonable stable of actual writers doing interesting work.

Staff writer Katie Notopoulos recently discovered a disturbing connection between "Pro-Ana" Tumblr posts (where anorexia sufferers proudly share their emaciated pictures) and targeted ads for a diet program.

It turns out that these keyword-targeted ads point to Ms. Notopoulos notes that they appear to be targeting the words "thinspo" (short for "thin-spiration") and "starve":
The ads are targeted by someone with an intimate knowledge of how the pro-ana Tumblr community works, exploiting the types of tags popular among young women encouraging one another in eating disorders, and targeting the ultra-thin images they find most appealing. In many instances, the ads are reblogged by others in the community, amplifying the ad’s message further. 

She also found ads linked to the keyword “scars”:

Eating disorders and the direct self-harm of "cutting" are often linked, and are believed to stem from the same types of anxiety.

When contacted by Buzzfeed, founder insisted he was not knowingly involved in placing the pro-ana ads for his products, and said he had instructed his vendor to "blacklist the affiliate" when he learned of the campaign. (However, he added that it was not possible for him to determine the identity of the affiliate based on the information he had.) The ads were placed by third parties using the ClickBank affiliate network.

This isn't the first time social media ads have shown up on pro-anorexia posts. In another Buzzfeed staff post, Amy Odell discovered that by purchasing the keywords "thigh" and "Gap" on Twitter (the latter presumably to stick it to the competition) Levi's accidentally endorsed a bunch of Pro-Ana "thigh gap" posts:

Internet advertising can be a sketchy business.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A new line of confidence-wear for girls

As a reaction to the marketing of sexist shirts for girls like "I'm too pretty to do math" (marketed, then pulled, by JC Penney) entrepreneurial dad Kevin Wagstaff decided to start his own line of confidence-wear.

Named "Keira's Kollection" (after his young daughter), Kevin's shirts make declarations of female strength and independence. Nice stuff.

The shirts and other activewear for girls and women are available online.

Tip via Yahoo!

Related post: Urban Outfitters' drinking shirts are a very American dilemma

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Fiat "celebrates" modern motherhood

Adfreak recently featured this ad from Krow Communications for Fiat UK, featuring an awkwardly-rapping British mum:

As an obvious play for the "mommy blogger" set, it's pretty amusing with its self-deprecating references to nursing, children's filth, oversharing, and an unsatisfying sex life. All it's missing is the constant references to wine dependance, but this is a car ad after all.

AF's Rebecca Cullers points out how there is no man present, which may be a purposeful appeal to both spiritually independent and single mothers. Besides which, she adds, "how this MILF fits herself, Dad and those three kids into the four-seat Fiat 500L is a total mystery."

Natural birth advocates may be annoyed with the casual episiotomy reference, but at least she's breastfeeding (or at least, "expressing").

Monday, December 31, 2012

A New Year's Resolution for the Ad Industry

Repeat after me: "I will not appropriate women's sexuality to sell unsexy stuff..."

This will be a hard one to keep, as long as Kate Upton keeps offering her services to the big brands. But let's put aside the feminist angle for a moment and look at this as professionals: Oversexed advertising is creatively lazy. It's borrowed interest.

On one hand, it definitely increases brand awareness, because anything that primal will cause controversy and arouse plenty of views. But does sex really sell product?

Source: via Tom on Pinterest

The intuitive answer is "yes". And science tends to back it up. A recent study at Yale showed that male capuchin monkeys shown explicit images of sex and power really did prefer “brands” associated with them. Social scientists Dan Ariely and George Loewenstein experimented on human males, and found that the more sexually aroused they were, the poorer their judgement became on matters of morals and self-preservation. The topics at hand had to do with their propensity to engage in risky and even criminal sex acts. But it's a fairly easy leap to assume that aroused men also make poor consumer decisions.

Or as Men's Health put it, "You act like a goof with the Hooters waitress, leaving a tip that doubles the bar bill. But why? Beautiful women cause a man's limbic system (the amygdala and other brain-stem structures, which are in charge of emotion) to fire up at the same time that his PFC checks out, leaving the judgment area vacant."

You'll note that much of this research has been focussed on men. What about women? The Next Web reports that "Women make or influence 85% of all purchasing decisions, and purchase over 50% of traditional male products, including automobiles, home improvement products and consumer electronics," and yet "91% of women say that advertisers don’t understand them."

That's not at all surprising. Only 3% of advertising Creative Directors are women. I can't find a reliable ratio for women Marketing Directors on client side, but I will note that the Chief Marketing Officers of CKE (Hardee's) and DirecTV (responsible for two of those Kate Upton ads) are men.

The conventional wisdom in advertising is that you can never go wrong using women's sexuality in ads, because men want them and women want to be them. But things could change fast.

In 2012, women started to show their democratic muscle. In the US Presidential election, unmarried women were a huge force in support of Barack Obama. They were mobilized by Republican statements and stances against reproductive choice. A teenager named Julia Bluhm got 86,439 people to help her demand the 17 Magazine to "commit to printing one unaltered—real—photo spread per month" as a statement about healthy body image. As a result, the magazine has made an even bigger commitment to "not alter the body size or face shape of the girls and models in the magazine and to feature a diverse range of beauty in its pages."

Does this mean that sex in advertising is on its way out? Unlikely. Women like sex too, after all. Most people are attracted to beauty in both sexes, and the promise of sexual fantasies fulfilled. But we, as an industry, can do it much better. Not just because we respect the awesome power of women's sexuality, but because we actually want our clients to succeed.

Here are some conversation-starters from Ira Kalb of the Marshall School of Business at USC:
For the many products that are not related to sex, using sex to sell them does not work. It can even backfire. A recent University of Wisconsin study shows that audiences view ads 10% less favorably if they use sex to sell un-sexy products. This study agrees with the data David Ogilvy accumulated over his long and storied career in advertising. In his book Ogilvy on Advertising, he says that sex sells only if it is relevant to the subject being sold. Advertising Professor Jef I. Richards from the University of Texas says, “Sex sells, but only if you're selling sex.”

Have a look at Adrants' list of "The 30 Sexiest Ads of 2012" and ask yourself, how many of them are selling sex? It would be a daunting but incredibly worthwhile task for someone more academic than me to chart the success of those various campaigns in actual sales.

But I'm not calling for censorship of any kind. In a free market, at the end of the day, it will be up to women to organize themselves as a consumer force and decide what they are willing to put up with.

Newest Miss Representation Trailer (2011 Sundance Film Festival Official Selection) from Miss Representation on Vimeo.

Call me a prude if you like. The fact is, I consider myself a very "sex positive" person.  (Some of my readers seem to think I'm a little too "positive") I have an instinctive and an aesthetic appreciation of the diverse expressions of the female form and I respect and appreciate the women around me as equal human beings who are not only defined by their sexuality.

I just don't like the way women's bodies and sexuality are commoditized to get cheap attention for brands and products. It's not helping us have a respectful and equal society.

One of the unfortunate lessons I have learned from the internet is how easy it is for people to treat others as objects for their racism, sexism, and general scorn. I can't help but imagine the worst of them jerking off to the ad with one hand while simultaneously typing "what a dumb bitch" in the comments thread with the other. Advertising may not be the worst contributor to rape culture, but why would any brand want to contribute at all?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Sexy adult diapers? Welcome to the new frontier of intergenerational branding

I recall, about 20 years back, an article in Spy Magazine that pointed to loose-fit Levi's as proof that aging baby boomers refused to give up the trappings of their youth. Now I think I've seen an equivalent for my generation (for women, at least): sexy incontinence panties.

Previously marketed as "Sexy Period" panties, these absorbent underthings have been relaunched as "Dear Kate" and positioned as fashionable confidence-boosters for the millions of women who experience urinary incontinence — especially as they age.

According to The Cut, 25-year-old Sexy Period founder Julie Sygiel was surprised when she found out how common incontinence was (1 in 4 women, according to the brand's new site)  but immediately saw a huge opportunity. “People say ‘I laughed so hard, I peed my pants,’ but I never knew it was real,” she noted.

The transformation of this Gen-Y brand for young women with heavy menstrual flow into a brand for specialized maternity and incontinence needs is impressive. To get a perspective, here's a quote from Dear Kate’s 28-year-old COO, Sharon Ruggieri: “We’ve never had children but we’re learning things about pregnancy no one told us".

But they're willing to learn. Now those are some smart marketers.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Cigarette marketing to women, 1930s style

Retronaut unearthed a couple of weird 1930s ads for Virginia Rounds (grandmother brand to Virginia Slims), a cigarette by Benson & Hedges aimed at women.

The example above, with its sharable dark humour and user-generated content contest, isn't that different from "breakthrough" social media campaigns today. (Although the disregard for the baby's health would also create a massive social media PR meltdown in today's more sensitive media era.)

The campaign also used celebrity. Illustrator Russell Patterson was a legend, having helped define the flapper style in his 1920s cover and interior artwork for publications like The Saturday Evening Post, Vogue, Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan, Redbook and Photoplay. He was also a successful syndicated cartoonist. 

The dated, but interesting, "girl power" approach in the ad above foreshadows Virginia Slims' 1960s pseudo-feminist marketing strategy of "You've come a long way baby". And like it, it commits the unforgivable crime of co-opting female empowerment to sell a deadly product.

I found one more ad from the series at

If you know of any others, please share.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Should we expect global brands to respect universal human rights?

Following the scorn heaped upon IKEA for deleting all adult women from the Saudi version of its catalogue, I think it's time to start talking about how we hold global brands accountable for how they operate in places without basic human rights.

This week, I noticed a picture going around that claimed to be from the door of a Pizza Hut in Jeddah:

Digging a little deeper, I found a 2007 blog post with more documentation of major brands giving in to sexist Saudi social and religious policy:

In this case, the policy of sex segregation is because women must expose their faces to eat, so no unmarried and unrelated man can be allowed to see them.

At McDonald's, the segregation is has created the "need" for restaurants to build parallel and non-communicating sections for (male) "singles" and "families".

Admittedly, this was five years ago. But has anything changed?

From 2009:

An American businesswoman was carted off to jail by religious police in Saudi Arabia for sitting with a male colleague at a Starbucks in Riyadh, the Times of London reported.
The woman, who spent a day behind bars, was strip-searched and forced to sign a false confession before being released, the newspaper said. The Times declined to publish her name at her request. 
The 37-year-old businesswoman works for a finance company in Riyadh. Her problem began when her office lost electricity. She and her male colleagues then went to a nearby Starbucks to use the coffee shop's Internet connection. 
She sat with a male colleague in the Starbucks' family area, the only place women are allowed to sit with men.  
"Some men came up to us with very long beards and white dresses. They asked 'Why are you here together?' I explained about the power being out in our office. They got very angry and told me what I was doing was a great sin," she told the Times. 
Following her arrest and interrogation, the woman was hauled before a judge.
"He said 'You are sinful and you are going to burn in hell.' I told him I was sorry. I was very submissive. I had given up. I felt hopeless," she told the Times. 
The newspaper said the woman had received a visit from officials at the U.S. embassy in Saudi Arabia. A U.S. official told The Times that it was being treated as "an internal Saudi matter" and refused to comment on her case.

And this year:
Western companies on Saudi land must comply with Saudi religious regulations. Fast-food restaurants such as McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, and other US firms, for instance, maintain sex-segregated eating zones in their restaurants. The facilities in the women's section are usually lower in quality.
I will just flat out say it: I don't think brands that want to do business in a world that respects the equality and dignity of women should be doing business in places where women have no basic rights. Full stop.

Recently, I refused to work on a project for a North American educational institution (NDA prevents me from naming names) that wanted to recruit teachers for a Saudi school. They would happily accept applications from anyone, but in reality only wanted white males. Fuck that.

Everyone — EVERYONE — deserves the same rights and opportunities as everyone else, and cannot be denied them simply because of what's between their legs. Whether that is a major right such as education and voting, or more mundane things like being able to drive or buy junk food, the continued denial of this equality is an affront to anyone who believes women are free individuals.

IKEA, when they were called out by the media in their base of Sweden, issued this statement:
We should have reacted and realized that excluding women from the Saudi Arabian version of the catalogue is in conflict with the IKEA Group values. We are now reviewing our routines to safeguard a correct content presentation from a values point-of-view in the different versions of the IKEA Catalogue worldwide.
You may not like where I'm going with this post. After all, don't universal human rights guarantee freedom of religion? Isn't it the Saudis' business how they run their society?

Personally, I have no problem saying that the way women are treated in Saudia Arabia, and many other countries is wrong. I don't care whether the reason given is religion, tradition, or just fear of women's liberation. Human beings deserve better.

I cannot change Saudi Arabia. But I can let western brands know that we're watching them. If expansion into wealthy but oppressive countries is more important to them than respect for women's rights, then that belief should be seen as part of their global brand.

If you want a Starbucks coffee, go ahead and order one. What you have in your hand is a beverage that stands for sex segregation and arrest of women who dare order one without their husband or brother present. If you have a Big Mac attack, remember that somewhere a single woman has had to hire a taxi driver to take her through the drive-through to get one, because to walk into the restaurant would put her at risk of being beaten and arrested by so-called morality police. Same with your Pizza Hut hot dog stuffed greasewheel, or your Double Down.

When you support a brand, you are making its values part of your own. That's the way branding and identity work. Would you like fries with that misogyny?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

"Bush is back in fashion" - Crude pun, beautiful illustration

Marc posted this interesting Romanian campaign on Osocio today. It's for Mai Mult Verde ("More Green"), and environmental group holding a fashion show to raise funds for tree planting.


I'll have to assume that comparing female pubic hair to shrubbery works in Romanian, too. It's a rather crude and childish pun, but I still find the illustration by Annabella Orosz enchanting.

The work is by G2