Tag Archives: Advertising

Updates: Sex and Beer

Two quick updates on some of my recent posts–

First up:

I recently posted commentary on Stella Artois’s print ad campaign, featuring the slogan, “She is a thing of beauty.” Since then, Stella Artois launched their TV commercial campaign.

The ad, directed by Wes Anderson, is both clever and appealing. Still, my objection to the print campaign holds true in the televised version.

Here, there is an interesting conflation of all the subjects—the gadgets, the beer, and the woman. Only the man is exempt.

But the end of the ad is what’s making me grind my teeth.

As the gadgetry gets out of control, the woman is literally consumed by the couch. When the man comes back, he finds his girlfriend replaced with his beer. (Unfortunately, he seems pretty happy about that). Their quick cut to the slogan, “She is a thing of beauty,” again fuses the beer and the woman (the beer even seems to win out here).


I also wrote a post arguing that a female Viagra could negatively impact women’s sexuality and mental health. Some of the reasons I cited, as well as a number of others, are outlined in this excellent interview with the author of Sex, Lies, and Pharmaceuticals, also summarized here.


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Thinness and Other Forms of Heresy

A couple months ago, I was walking down the street when I saw this Pretzel Crisps ad campaign plastered on a bus stop. I was pretty upset when I first saw it. Women already feel enormous pressure to be thin; eating disorders are alarmingly widespread, and promoting excessive thinness in a snack advertisement contributes to a seriously damaging cultural dialogue about unrealistic expectations for women’s bodies.

I wasn’t the only person upset by these ads. In fact, they infuriated so many people that the company created a website to hear complaints. But the website wasn’t exceptionally sensitive either, so women are pretty pissed off.

While the (rightfully) angry masses are fighting this battle head-on, I’m going to take a detour to see what this looks like from a different angle. Bear with me while I look for the silver lining.

Recently, I read a great article by Paul Graham on what you can’t say in today’s society. Not the things we’ve simply disproven, but the things we find heretical because we fear, deep down, that they might contain a kernel of truth. (I encourage you to read the article, or what follows may just seem offensive).

Pretzel Crisps’ ad campaign is a glaring example of what we can’t say. But what is it, exactly, that we’re too shy to say? Let’s take a look at the ads.

First: “You can never be too thin.”

False. It is quite possible to be dangerously thin. I hope that’s common knowledge. But the heresy here is that far too many women believe, even if they won’t say it, that they could always be thinner. How often do you hear a woman say, “I could stand to gain a few pounds”? Never. But “I could stand to lose a few pounds”? All the time, no matter their BMI.

Second: “We’re thin and stacked, so lose the old bag.”

True fact: Some men do leave their wives for younger women. But when they do, they cannot say that they left their spouse because the alternative was younger. They might try all sorts of offensive euphemisms, such as: “She has so much energy! She’s so fresh and innocent! I love the way she looks up to me!” But they can’t even try to say it’s because she’s younger. Off limits. Out of bounds. The galleys are straight ahead.

Last: “Looks as good as skinny feels.”

I’m a little scared to tackle this one, but here goes my dignity. I’m stepping out on a very precarious limb to admit that my body feels good when I’m thin. Maybe it’s a mental trick, or maybe it’s physical fitness, but skinny does feel good. Even just writing the words feels heretical. I’m fighting the urge to click backspace.

So why don’t I? Does it do us any good to say these things out loud?

On the surface, no. The ads encourage excessive thinness and body image concern, which are already far too prevalent among young women today.

But skim the fat, and this might actually be positive.

Body image and weight have become such taboo topics that we discuss them on tiptoes, careful not to damage a girl’s self esteem, constantly avoiding landmines. There is so little we can say and so much we can’t say.

Our silence is our downfall.

Young women are left to decide on their own where the line falls between healthy or unhealthy, too heavy or too thin. With all the conflicting pressures in our culture, those are difficult lines to navigate and negative messages can have undue influence when they’re not part of a holistic conversation.

Ads like these open the conversation. They push us to our limit—openly offend us—and we’re finally compelled to talk back.

Above all else, we need to talk. If we can’t communicate honestly and openly, then we can’t protect, advise, and support each other as we learn to love and respect our bodies.

Mini snack bags (“only 100 calories”) have long been advertisements for weight loss, and are exclusively marketed to women. Pretzel Crisps just had the gall to publicize the subtext.

I say, good for them. Thank you for showing us what’s really going on, what all the other companies are already doing in more subversive ways. Thank you for making us fight back. Thank you for making us talk.

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The Beauty is a Beast: Stella Artois’ New Ad Campaign

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!!!


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GQ Boys Beat the Heat: In Defense of the Pantless Pervs

The stars of the upcoming Scott Pilgrim movie are frolicking about New York, letting it all hang out in a new GQ spread.  Have you clicked the link yet?  Click it.  As my grandma would say, oh my.

I totally hear Bitch Magazine’s frustration with GQ for belittling the threat of street harassment by making it seem funny.  And at first, I agreed with their indignation.  But then, I reconsidered.

Street harassment is, no doubt, a serious issue.  It can range from an innocuous catcall (“Oh man, God bless you”) to a threatening and invasive attack (last spring, a total stranger actually grabbed and squeezed my crotch as he walked by).  When it starts to feel dangerous, it really isn’t funny.

But this photo doesn’t feel dangerous, and I think it exposes a more (ahem) private part of our mating rituals.  Let’s take a closer look:

Bitch Mag makes a good point that men seem to be the only ones who get to go pantless on Saturdays.  But somehow, that seems fitting.

I’m a nature documentary enthusiast and I notice a striking resemblance between this photo and animal mating rituals, where the males expose themselves before the females—posturing, posing, and strutting—in an effort to win their favor.  Sadly for this trio, their failure to woo (shown here by the women’s total inattention) is just as funny as the bird of paradise that hops and squawks to absolutely no avail.

Notably, the two women in the photo are walking with their arms around each other.  For me, this highlights that female companionship can be a protective bond, ensuring that we are not vulnerable to unwanted male attention, and can instead choose when to approach.

Even though the men are objectifying the two women, the women are still in power.   They are closer to the camera (visually dominant), fully clothed (unexposed), and leaving the men in the dust.

Just for kicks, imagine the same situation in reverse: Tina Fey, Amy Sedaris, and Amy Poehler are sitting on a bench, pantless, with their legs spread open, gawking at two gorgeous men, walking by with their arms around each other.  Now that changes things.

Here, the relationship between the two men suggests that they’re batting for a different team.  The impenetrability of the couple, mirrored by the women in the original image, shows us the futility of the gawkers’ attention-seeking efforts. Further, the women sitting in the background with their legs spread open seem rather pathetic and decidedly male—such hubris!

But perhaps men need that hubris to get the courage to approach women who frequently reject them.  And maybe they need the comraderie and social support of ogling together (hence the strange habit of watching porn in packs)—a habit that seems ludicrous when the roles are reversed.  The incongruity highlights that women’s social networks usually serve a sexually protective purpose, while men’s are sexually enabling.

In the animal kingdom, females are raped, attacked, and threatened, just like females of our own species.  That imbalance of power often taints otherwise harmless mating rituals, but perhaps we’d do well to remember that violence is not synonymous with strutting.

By rejecting the humor of this picture, are we in fact allowing natural mating rituals to become scarier and more powerful than they actually are?

It’s funny.  It’s okay to laugh.

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