Archive for the ‘Advertising’ Category

Pic: Fly on Gorse by Maura McHugh

Adverts on the telly are like flies in the garden – you know they are part of the ecosystem but mostly they irritate the hell out of you despite your attempts to cultivate a Buddhist policy of compassion for everything. Sometimes you just want to crush the blighters out of existence.

Nothing knocks me off the track to spiritual enlightenment more than beauty products adverts on the telly targeted at women. These adverts create a glamorous illusion containing a lie that you too can look that way as long as you buy product X. Despite the fact that they’re asking you to identify with underfed waifs, while tricking them out with the help of the best make-up, stylists and hairdressers known in the PR world.

This image of physical perfection has always been difficult to live up to, but at least in the past the myth was achieved using real products, along with ace lighting, a catchy song and savvy direction. Over the ten years advertisers have been employing a battalion of crack CGI geeks to spruce up every pixel. Eyelashes are impossibly long and clump-free, hair shines with elven luminescence and wrinkles are non-existent. Thighs are long and firm, teeth are even and whiter than our disappearing polar ice caps and skin tone is lightened with appalling regularity.

When employing these effects advertisers are lying. There is nothing a woman can do to look that good. Worse still – and this is the part that crooks my dharma – is that the advertisements admit they are lying. In fine, hard-to-read print along the bottom you’re told ‘eyelashes enhanced in post production’ or ‘natural hair extensions used’. When outrageous claims are made about how much women love the product you discover that it’s actually 30 out of 38 women, drunk at a hen party, who concur that it reduces wrinkles on a night out. They don white coats and babble pseudo-science, hoping the graphics will mesmerise you long enough so you won’t notice the actual statistics quoted underneath.

Not only are the advertisers acknowledging their falsehoods, but they expect you to buy the product anyway. It’s been my policy now never to buy a product that employs these tactics. But I wonder, do advertisers think women are stupid? The answer must be yes, judging the way they pitch products to us.

After all, apparently we’d love to videotape our hair swishing and upload it to a web site. That’s what girls love, don’t you know: preening and competing with one another online. Every time I see that ad I want to hammer a fly into oblivion.

Here’s a video of a fabulous sketch from That Mitchell and Web Look, which in less than a minute deconstructs how advertisers pitch their products to women (and compares it to how they are pitched to men).

Don’t believe the hype ladies. Better still, don’t buy the hype.

Maura McHugh is a writer and blogger who lives in the West of Ireland and is happy to call herself a feminist. She’s a geek and a fan of horror cinema and comic books so she long ago developed a thick skin about not conforming to ‘normal’ womanly interests. She also likes fashion and make-up, but not when it costs her peace of mind. Maura blogs at http://splinister.com/ and is on Twitter: @splinister

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Nescafe’s threesome

"Do you want to come up for some euphemistic coffee?"

I can see the ad pitch to Nescafe in my mind…

A pink balloon that looks suspiciously like a blown up condom skirts across the floor of a trendy loft flat.

A sexy scruffy looking man in his mid-twenties ambles down the  metal stairs. The morning light streams through an open plan kitchen window. He catches the eye of the bed headed beautiful brunette, who flicks up an eyebrow giving him a wanton “You’re a bad boy” grimace.

Another, more dozy, brunette who looks like she’s been shagged into the middle of next week, bumps up against the kitchen sink, turns and realises there are magic sachets sitting there.

Instant coffee. Instant absolution. Instant dissolve of granules and awkwardness.

Being a good, if slightly dumb, third wheel, she makes three mugs of the chemical concoction. They all drink it. Sheepish man makes beautiful brunette an origami bird (yes, an origami bird – it’s a bird that bends and folds easily).

Third wheel, watching this cardboard coupling display, chuckles as the natural chaste order of life returns. Her eyes say “Thank goodness he didn’t prefer drab old me to his stunning girlfriend. Now I can quietly go back to cutting my arms.”

The Voice Over flogs us the product “Nescafe, 3 in 1. White, coffee with sugar. In one.”


What a long way we have come since the 1980’s Nescafe Gold Blend ad series starring Sharon Maughan and that bloke who went on to mentor Buffy.

Despite the power dressing, the romance was worthy of at least a BBC costume drama. There was even an attempt at purveying sophistication.

There was never the smutty suggestion that, once he got her up for coffee, he would get her up for a randy threesome with that other neighbour that adland keeps in the cupboard for just such occasions.

What amazes me is that everyone watches Mad Men and laughs at the suppression and treatment of women in it. Ha ha, thank goodness we live in a more enlightened society now. But adland is chock full of young men who have grown up on an almost pure diet of porn as their sex-and-relationships education.

A threesome, therefore, is as cool as…um… a cucumber?!

It’s just the way we swing now and then. No big deal. Have a coffee and get over the embarrassment of compromising yourself for someone else’s sexual gratification in the vain hope that he, or possibly she, might like you for it.

The idea of a threesome with two men and one woman wouldn’t appeal in adland. Sure, men can look stupid not knowing how to work a washing machine – there’s a secret badge of pride in that, even if he is a total dud of a human being – but two men naked together in any context other than a Daz ad, is simply unthinkable to that mindset.

It’s not that I mind porn with my coffee, I’d just rather it wasn’t so, winking,  desperate and depressing (yes, I demand happy, hopeful caffeinated porn with my coffee-Red Bull porn). And, like porn, this ad doesn’t leave me wondering, will they won’t they (kind of a given there), so I am less likely to think or talk about it for any length of time, hopefully.

Perhaps I am being obtuse. The romantic ads were for Nescafe Gold Blend. The threesome horror flogs a 3-in-1 sachet for losers who don’t even have fresh milk in the fridge. They are not going for the same market.

Still, it’s a shame. People that good-looking should drink fresh milk and not have such low self-esteem that they feel they have to share their boyfriend during a party. S’all I’m sayin’.

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Now, I don’t want to pretend that I’m NOT constantly bickering with TV commercials, like an irate budgie having words with the mirror in his cage, but if there’s an ad that’s really seizing my contraband at the moment, it’s the one for Xbox Kinect’s Your Shape: Fitness Evolved.

Oh, you know the one. Smug girl makes eyes at herself in the mirror*, asks boyfriend-type “Can you tell I’ve been playing on The X Box? Maybe you should play some X Box?”, pronouncing Xbox like it’s part of an elocution exam where mispronunciation of brand names results in waterboarding. This buffoonery-in-diction is entirely deliberate. The Xbox-owner in the ad is barely comfortable with how to pronounce its name, and yet she’s reaping the benefits of her investment! It’s an invitation for non-gamers to spend a zillion euro on kitting out their sitting rooms, a warm hug for clueless types easily convinced that motion-capture technology is the new 100 metre sprint. I get that. I really do. But as a female gamer, I’m very easily offended by the stereotype that women are but airhead nunkies bent on commandeering their boyfriends’ consoles for narcissistic and fluffy purposes. Pah! A pox on your vain stereotypes, Kinect ad execs! I’ll take ye on! I’ll take ye all on!

Look! Tai Chi! Exercise for girls!

The sad truth is that being a gamer who owns rather than covets boobs has turned me into something rather too easily offended. There is no reasonable reason for this. Why should the banal typecasting of fluffy airheads offend me? I don’t get offended on behalf of elderly gamers when cuddly representatives of their generation appear, leppin’ about the place in ads for Nintendo’s Wii. I don’t get offended on behalf of six-year-old Mario Kart veterans when other smallies star in ads for V-Tech toy laptops. But gosh, the depiction of female gamers as fashion-obsessed mouthbreathers really gets on my nerves. “I’d bate their arses in Goldeneye!” I huff, loudly, to anyone in hearing distance, which is a very telling action indeed. If I was truly comfortable with my gaming, I wouldn’t need applause for my gaming, now would I? There’s a bit of the “See how well I’m doing here! Did you know I’m a GIRL?” to the whole thing. It’s a tragic tale of gormless self-mockery, really.

Not so long ago, I went game shopping for a couple of titles I was after. One was for my PS2, the other for my 360. The shop assistant looked concerned and said, “You do realise these are for two different platforms, don’t you?” whereupon I became sorely offended. I don’t remember the exact response I gave, but it was probably something sneery and along the lines of Naaaaaaaaw, I’m that stupid, where’s my GH-fucking-D so I can heat my likkle brain up? Although I knew full well that the clerk was probably pointing out the same thing to many customers buying multiple titles, out of the goodness of his heart, out of nothing but benevolence directed towards confused Irish Mammies buying Grand Theft Auto for their eight-year-old sons. Oh, how I sniped at the poor man! I feel very bad about it – he was but a Good Samaritan after all – but that doesn’t stop me regurgitating the anecdote when I’m banging on about being a gamer and being a girl. “Condescending asshole!” I harrumph, though I’m secretly talking about myself.

It could be that I’m seeking kudos for being a girl gamer because I’m fully aware that there just aren’t as many of us. Out of my own social circle, the majority of the fellas are gamers, either on PC or console. The majority of the girleens don’t play video games at all, and those that do are more likely to have a Nintendo DS to train their brains on than a PS3. When it comes down to it, I don’t actually like the majority of games out there. I can’t stand First-Person Shooters. I can’t stand playing online. No matter how selective it is, I demand congratulations for my habit, all the same. It’s as if I’m standing up for the Little Gal, even though evidence suggests she exists in no great numbers at all.

It’s good to have a hobby.

*Oh no! I mentioned mirrors twice in three sentences! Please don’t tell the Literature Police.

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Smiling for your greens

Thanks to Jill at Feministe for bringing this post to my attention on the wonders of women eating salad alone and smiling about it.

I like salad but I don’t think you’ll see me ecstatic everytime I eat it, the stock photos are stunning though aren’t they?

I saw the post just before I was introduced to the Innocent Smoothie Superhero advert. (It is not 100% women specific but does not stop it being daft and accusatory of women thinking bad thoughts).

So as you face into the week after ‘The Christmas’ deluge of Activia/Weightwatchers/Gym/Celebrity Slim advertisements see how often women are smiling and when we are told we should be sad or distressed! All reports and observations are welcome below!

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The New York State Department of Health says in a campaign targetted at women on low incomes that it can help them lose weight. Some focus group somewhere came up with this or some patronising public health professional?

h/t Sociological Images and more on the NYT Motherlode blog.

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One oft-repeated idea perceived as fact in popular culture refers to the ample figures women had in the 1950s as evidence of Post-War affluence, a reaction against the privation during war-time.  Folks enjoy pointing to Marilyn Monroe’s zaftig form as the norm for the decade, when women boasted abundant cleavage and hips.  More recently, commentators highlight Christina Hendricks’ figure as evocative of the era, as some sort of role model for girls to aspire to, even with Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone recently arguing that girls should emulate the actor’s size.  All the autumn glossies trumpet the return of the 1950s style for heaving cleavage, nipped waist and full skirts.  The Louis Vuitton line of corset dresses featuring Christie Turlington (pictured here) was the subject of much enthusiastic praise by the fashion doyennes.  The September American edition of Vogue contains two articles on the 50s trend.  Lynn Yaeger fails to reflect on the blisters and scars the garters mark Hendricks with; or Angela Lansbury’s complaints about the undergarments; or Rita Moreno reporting that the clothes from the era were ‘hideous and hateful.’  In another article Marc Jacobs explains his inspiration for the choice of models from Victoria Secret for the Vuitton collection came down to ‘ the bodies were the right bodies for the clothes.’  His aesthetic scale ranks clothes above the individual buxom women. Coupled with a report last month authenticating men’s supposed preference for the hour-glass type as a marker of physical attraction and beauty, the messages abound for women to pack on some flesh.

The problem with this sort of trend-setting is that it regards women as interchangeable assembly line objects rather than individual human beings.  Garments should go in and out of fashion, not women’s bodies.  I could no more have Hendricks’ figure than she could have my own hour glass half full form.  Each age may herald an iconic shape for women according to the dictates of the media and popular culture, but women have never summarily conformed to the given silhouette touted for style, at least not since corsetry and boning went by the wayside.  Women cannot instantly manipulate their body by bingeing themselves in order to fit an arbitrarily designated shape.  And no one should suggest they should.

In the 1920s, celluloid celebrations of a flat-chested flapper were all the rage, yet Mae West flaunted a full figure and earned acclaim on the stage and then silver screen.  Bette Davis’ film career began in the 1920s while she fulfilled a more classic hour-glass shape than the one credited to Marilyn Monroe thirty years later.  Betty Grable in a swimsuit was the pin-up of choice among servicemen when she was a perfect hour glass as any of the peace-time ideals.  In the 1960s, culture vultures identify Twiggy in a mini-shift as the iconic ideal when she was a contemporary of the buxom Raquel Welch.

Despite what you read, not all women in the 1950s cast the same shadow as Monroe.  Audrey Hepburn was sylph-shaped in movies which no doubt grossed more than the baby-talking, lip-quivering platinum blonde at the box office.  In the adaptation of Ira Levin’s noir A Kiss Before Dying (1956), all the women onscreen are willowy reeds.  Joanne Woodward, Virginia Leith and Mary Astor look like the slender equivalents of a modern size 2 in suits and shirt dresses.  Across a generational divide, each woman seems to sport a waistline a man could circle in his hands.  The next time you read an article about the new silhouette or body type for women, cry bully and skip it.

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Whether the subtext of this advertising campaign for a martial arts academy is to suggest that karate lessons will butch-ify the little boy or else assist in preparing him to meet the bullies who will attack a boy for wearing heels or lipstick, the result still carries the heavy hand of the gender police.  Is the boy pictured even four years old?  Why the hand-wringing over a toddler playing dress up, even if he’s a boy?

The ad channels a dangerous message, one that leads the public to code a boy in proximity to femininity as a warning sign of trouble to come.  A limp wrist or black eye is the promise unspoken.  In reality, this blue and pink worldview  has real consequences for boys, such as the baby in New York less than two years old who was beaten to death for acting like a girl.  This Mars and Venus gender binary crap isn’t cutesy; it can kill.

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While at the cinema last week, I nearly choked on my crisps when I saw this new ad for Reebok’s Easytone trainers. Sure, I get that the point of these trainers is to tone up legs, bums and all those other ‘trouble zones’ we’re supposed to give a rat’s arse about, so it’s understandable that the camera is going to focus on those areas.

But why does it have to feature headless women? This ad is nothing but a sea of lithe limbs – be they bare, stockinged or otherwise – doing a variety of fun-yet-sexy movements. Notwithstanding the fact that not one of the models has legs resembling anything like a typical pair of pins belonging to an average woman (no cellulite, no thread veins, no stretch marks, nothing but glowing flesh), I don’t for a minute believe that shaking and vac’ing my way around my apartment while wearing them will turn me into a sylph-like goddess.

Even with all of that aside, it is the headless woman aspect that creeps me out the most. It’s the ultimate in reducing women to their parts, in this instance turning athletes, nightclubbers and office workers into bouncing buttocks, taut calves and slinky ankles. There’s no need to even show these women’s faces (if these are indeed women rather than a woman – they are all light-skinned and all look eerily similar) when you can see their lower halves, and fixate on their arses rather than having to – god forbid – hear what they actually have to say about the product. The horror!

We have gotten off pretty lightly in Ireland however, as these are some American ads (‘make your boobs jealous!’):

We can all appreciate the aesthetic beauty of these impossibly sleek thighs, but we know the reality too. That very little of us look like that, which spoils the sexy illusion somewhat. I’d love if Reebok kept it real, if their ads featured women of all shapes and sizes, women just like us, who wear these shoes and then see their generous behinds and dimpled thighs reduced and smoothed. But perhaps both of these things are too much to ask for.

What do you think about these ads?

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We've come a long way

I was reminiscing the other day about an unusual and in a sense landmark decision I was once involved in when I worked in the marketing department of a multinational pharmaceutical and personal products manufacturer. A couple of the women I was chatting with encouraged me to recount the episode here.

During the early 1990s I was brand manager for Ireland’s leading sanitary towel brand, a product that commanded an overwhelming share of the Irish market and was manufactured in Dublin, thus providing significant employment locally. This brand was the default choice for Irish woman for decades, the package that hundreds of thousands of mothers discreetly handed to their daughters in a rite of passage akin to Dad buying junior his first pint.

Tradition, word of mouth and lack of an alternative had ensured that this brand held a seemingly unassailable position and it was at the time of my becoming involved with it one of Ireland’s top twenty brands across every category. Yet in many ways it was the brand that dare not speak its name. However, trouble was brewing. We were no longer living in two channel land and alien brands of towel and tampon were being advertised on foreign channels making lofty claims of unencumbered roller skating and dance filled days.

Here in Ireland there was a ban on the television advertising of these “personal hygiene” products as to do so was deemed inappropriate. Fearful that a generation of young woman would learn of alternatives and abandon their mother’s and grandmother’s favourite we attempted to break this taboo.

I remember attending RTE copy clearance meetings, awkward, uncomfortable sessions facing a panel of squirming men of a certain age and disposition who regretted turning up for work that particular day. We scrutinised the proposed script line by line, crossing out our tentative boundary-crossing suggestions as we went. No red liquid – blue if you have to show liquid at all, no overt showing of the offending item, sensitive treatment of this shameful reality and a strict ten o’clock watershed. The resulting ad was so innocuous as to be almost invisible but it was approved. After all the committee had to demonstrate pragmatism; we had money to spend and times were tough in TV land.

The day after the first broadcast the letters began to arrive and worse still the phone calls. Every single one was from a shocked and offended woman and all were directed my way. I recall spending almost an hour talking down one hysterical woman who explained that her husband could no longer go to the pub to watch the football in case one of these hateful ads would be broadcast; that they could no longer watch television as a family as they had a teenage boy. She made it quite clear that this was ALL MY FAULT. The letters were rambling and irate. One enterprising bunch had photocopied a crude drawing of a television set and scrawled their message within – I received dozens of them. It seems comical now but it was rather unnerving at the time.

We have come a long way since and advertising for sanitary towels and tampons is commonplace. However, some rules still apply.  I am conscious that some people may feel that this is reasonable; that these intimate products should not form part of the mainstream. Yet would we apply the same rules to toilet paper? Should there be a watershed before which this distasteful product cannot be discussed? Should we employ coy euphemisms, extolling the benefits to users who yearn to skydive and skate with confidence, knowing that their bottoms are pristine?

A year or so after this bizarre chapter in my working life I had moved on – a circumstance unrelated to the opprobrium showered upon me by a faction of “Mná na h-Éireann“.  On one particular occasion I was passing through a small town on my way to Wexford when I got caught short and my period was upon me. I popped into the local grocers, handed a pack of sanitary towels to the taciturn man at the register and watched in amazement as he wrapped the package in layers of thick brown paper, secured with metres of sellotape. The whole shameful exchange was completed in silence and I’m sure I caught him suppressing a shudder. Perhaps certain parts of Ireland weren’t ready for innocuous blue liquid and skateboarding woman after all.

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For make-up collectors, the excitement around a new collection by MAC is akin to that of tweens and the new Twilight movie. It’s a time when beauty bloggers in particular speculate what the imaginative beauty brand will come up with next. Known for its bright, flashy colours, quality products and imaginative approach to marketing (it has collaborated with Barbie and Hello Kitty in the past), MAC’s limited edition lines sell out as quickly as it takes to slick on one of their fundraising Viva Glam lipsticks. But the latest collection, a collaboration with fashion house Rodarte (run by the young sisters Laura and Kate Mulleavy), is getting bloggers’ attention for all the wrong reasons, and the fallout from it has demonstrated the immense – and perhaps unanticipated – power that customers wield online.

The problem with MAC’s new Rodarte collection? The products are inspired by a city in Northern Mexico. But not any Mexican city – they’re inspired by Ciudad Juárez, a place so dangerous for women that the term ‘femicide’ has been coined to describe the death of hundreds of females who lived there. At least 500 (some estimate that number could in fact be in the thousands) young women have gone missing from the town, their decomposing bodies later found in the desert – in some cases, feet away from the corpses of other missing Juárez women. Women have disappeared into the ether on their way to or from work; vacant lots have become crime scenes, the desert a giant graveyard.

The violent deaths of las muertas de Juárez (‘the dead women of Juárez’) have been occurring since at least 1993, and the senseless crimes are continuing year on year. Men have been arrested, some have been charged, but still the violence continues, and questions are on the lips of every mother, father, friend or child who has lost a woman in their life to an invisible murderer.

The majority of these women worked in the maquiladora, known for their intensive, sweatshop conditions, long hours and monitoring of women’s fertility. These are not pleasant places to work. But they are a means to an end for women, for it is mostly women who work in them. A handful of the women who were murdered worked as prostitutes.  Some were natives of the town, others had moved to work in the maquiladora. The youngest women were in their teens.  Many women have never been found; many bodies have never been identified.

Juarez may not be a household name in Europe, but it is not a place that can have escaped MAC’s attention. Groups such as the Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa and the Juarez Project, to name just two, have been formed. Numerous television programmes, films and documentaries have been made about the deaths. Books, poems and articles have been written about the city. Musicians such as Tori Amos and At the Drive In have been inspired by the shocking violence and murders.

When some beauty bloggers realised that the MAC Rodarte collection was inspired by the landscape of Juarez, but that the items were named ‘Sleepwalker’, ‘Ghost town’, ‘Factory’ and ‘Badlands’, they were incensed. These names have clear links to the plight of women working in maquiladora – and the promotional photographs feature a ghostly, dead-eyed model. Women who love make-up are sometimes seen as having a frivolous hobby, of only being interested in make-up because of its camouflaging (rather than transformative or creative) power. As we saw when Beaut.ie won the best blog award at the Irish Blog Awards, beauty blogs are seen by some as fluffy, unimportant websites that aren’t bothered with big issues. What this case has shown is that in fact there are many beauty ‘junkies’ who do care about what they purchase; women who will not wear an eyeshadow that is streaked with bright red rivulets when they know that it is inspired by a city where women have been left to die on bloodied concrete floors.

Thanks to these bloggers, MAC have stated that they are sorry for offending customers and fans, and that this was never their intention. “We are committed to donating $100,000 to a non-profit organization that has a proven, successful track-record helping women in need and that can directly improve the lives of women in Juárez in a meaningful way,” they announced yesterday, adding that the names in the collection will be changed.

Rodarte said their makeup collaboration with MAC “developed from inspirations on a road trip that we took in Texas last year, from El Paso to Marfa”, but that they “are truly saddened about injustice in Juárez and it is a very important issue to us”.

The names can be changed, the apologies made; but the fact remains that women are being murdered every year in Ciudad Juárez, and there is nothing beautiful about that.



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