New York is full of enormous, provocative billboards. Calvin Klein, in particular, arouses constant protest for splashing blow jobs, threesomes, and nude celebrities across Broadway billboards. But none of those ads may be as blatantly offensive as this much classier campaign:
Modeled after a 1960 Vogue cover, the slogan on this Stella Artois ad reads: “She is a thing of beauty.”
Seriously? You’re killing me, Stella.
Let’s start with the visual setup of this picture. This is a classic example of objectification in print photography. The man’s open eyes look directly at the woman (whose eyes are turned down), asserting that he is in power. He actively consumes her, while she passively accepts his stare. The man is slightly below the woman, looking up at her, which does convey his admiration for her beauty, but his “thinker” hand position suggests that he is the ‘buyer’ assessing the value of the ‘merchandise’ (both the beer and the woman, in this case).
Setting this photo in the oh-so-popular Mad Men Era (complete with Don and Betty look-alikes) recalls a time just before the women’s rights movement, when women were still commonly viewed as their husbands’ possessions. This association makes the woman easily equated with the drink in her hand—the ‘thing of beauty.’
Which brings me to the slogan. Ugh, the slogan! “She is a thing of beauty.” The phrasing is intentionally vague, implying that both the woman and the beer are ‘things of beauty.’ For a man, this says “your beer comes with a side of woman” (a typical storyline in alcohol ads). And for a woman, this says, “you can be just as desirable as this beer.” Lord, I hope she knows she’s better than that beer!
But here is the real kicker: Stella Artois’ target market is predominantly female. While the ad aims to appeal to both men and women, women are the primary targets of this ad campaign. OMFG. You’re joking.
Since the US campaign was created to mimic their international campaign, I would imagine they did some research showing that women reacted well. And I would imagine that the campaign is effectively convincing women (and men) to buy beer.
I’m not sure what to say about what this says about women. I can only say that, if this campaign is successful, then it’s an unfortunate example of the extent to which we have internalized the male, objectifying gaze.
We are not ‘things.’ We are not consumable. And we are better than that beer.
Sadly, I used to love Stella Artois for their classy, clever ad campaigns that so notably defied the typical ‘beer/woman’ conflation. This latest campaign is just an upscale version of the same old objectifying story.
Scream with me, Stanley: Stellaaa!!!