In it’s purest form, commercial advertising is a call to action, an appeal to get the viewer off the sofa and into a store to buy a product. When Method released a commercial criticizing the use of environmentally harsh chemicals that also used sexual assault imagery, they not only risked being seen as a company that will use misogyny to hawk a product, but also as a company that is comfortable risking the wealthier, liberal, environmentally-conscious female consumer market they hoped to attain. Some action, amirite?
So when some feminist bloggers got ahold of the video, they not only pushed the point that it’s backward and tiresome to rely on the humiliation of women to push a product or idea (see also: PETA) but also that the use of sexual assault imagery was so viscerally upsetting for many women that it made them less likely to buy or support the use of whatever was being sold. Method, who commissioned the creepy, leering bubbles video by a third party, not only took heart to the criticism, but also pulled the advertising fail from “all controllable sources” and issued a public apology acknowledging many of the complaints made by their online critics. It showed that Method is willing to listen to their market * — or is at least unwilling to risk the viral anti-campaign this vocal and active market could wage — and that active members of the public can communicate with corporate entites for a greater good. For a minute it seemed like a win all around.
But the advertising industry has taken offense to our offense, and boy, they’re sure gonna tell us. Advertising Age has released an editorial in print and online that tells all of us annoyed with their misogynist offerings to “take a deep breath,” “have some perspective,” and “quit looking for offense in every single commercial.”
The latest March of the Offense Brigade was set into action by Method’s “Shiny Suds” spot. A clear spoof on the old “Scrubbing Bubbles” spot, it shows a woman entering her shower only to find some creepy, leering talking bubbles that have no intention of going away. Many of our readers viewed the spot. Many loved it. Little did they know that while they were getting the warm fuzzies laughing at a clever spot and considering taking civic action for better laws to disclose chemicals in household cleaners, they were actually condoning rape.
That’s right. A spot featuring animated talking bubbles, playing off human nature and making a point about disgusting chemical residue is evidence of “rape culture.”
The editorial continues:
Marketers are often chastised for being too conservative, for not taking risks in their advertising. But sometimes, it’s easy to see their point. Especially in an age when a blog post and 300 commenters can derail a campaign, maybe it makes sense to play it safe. A spot might upset the homophobic. It might upset men’s rights groups. Conversely, it might run afoul of gay-rights activists or ardent feminists. And God forbid a marketer crosses mommy bloggers.
We’re the consumers, Ad Age, you sell to us. And it’s not our job to handhold you while you figure out the drawbacks of “viral marketing.” At least Steve Hall had the sense to back off and apologize.**
Melissa does a fine job mocking this last paragraph and explaining why we activists do what we do, so I’ll stick with the obvious angle: Sarah Haskins must have really pissed these guys off.
Not just Sarah Haskins and her wildly funny “Target Women” ad spoofs, but everyone else with a blog or message board or Facebook page or Twitter account who for the first time in recent history has the agency to critically respond to traditional media. For every clever ad that graces our paths, there is another that tells us stew is manly because liquids are for girls, women are so stupid that they’ll buy anything that has flowers and a matching tote, women don’t drink beer (or maybe, women should boycott said beer), it isn’t for the ladies if it isn’t pink, man gadgets use technology while woman gadgets use magic, what men desire above all is a return to pre-feminist time (and Dockers!), and women’s primary function is to adhere to very narrow beauty standards at all costs lest catastrophe occur. Literally. Unless the ladies in the ad are already dead, in which case they glamourize an otherwise boring photo shoot.
So maybe bad advertising is a new anti-advertising, where instead of getting the public off the sofa and into a store to buy a product, the public stays on the couch blogging about why others should also refrain from going to the store to buy said product. If an advertiser can’t sell a product on it’s merits, they are left with messaging, and if the messaging is bad, wrong, off, offensive, misogynist, homophobic, racist, whatever, someone is going to notice. In ye olden days before SNS… oh, those were the good days, back when mediocre ad campaigns could fly under the public radar and advertisers were only beholden to whoever signed the contracts.
Feminist blogs (perhaps only the “ardent” ones) are very aware of advertising, but then, so are most politically aware folks since media studies became a part of canonical secondary curricula. Many of us now have the ways and means to respond to what, if not “offends”, annoys us. Instead of being offended that we don’t buy their expertise, you’d think advertisers would QUIT PATRONIZING THE CORE CONSUMERS THAT BUY THEIR PRODUCTS. Today, when bad advertising rankles the public, companies and advertisers alike get our feedback and all the glory and mess that entails. Welcome to the internet.
* I may be giving too much credit to Method. See a discussion of their “public apology” and the timeline of this apology in comments.
** Same with Steve Hall.
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