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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"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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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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