Skip to content

What the Hell, Advertising?

2011 May 17

So, here’s a cigarette advert from several decades ago. Y’know, back before they knew cigarettes killed you and stuff. Also back when gender representations in advertising were even more terrible.

Vintage advert for Tipalet cigarettes. Shows a man exhaling smoke in a womans face. Tagline: Blow in her face and she'll follow you anywhere.

But hey, that was decades ago, right? That was from a time when people held far more dubious views, hell people had only recently stopped using tape worms as a miracle diet (no, seriously). It was a less enlightened time, but we’ve moved on since then, yes?

Well, no, not so much. The world of advertising is still filled with dubious messages, awkward depictions of race and gender, and terrible division of products along gender lines (“This is a girl product! Make the packaging pink so they’ll buy it! This is a boy product! Fill the advert with explosions!”) So what we have here is a collection of half a dozen or so recent magazine adverts that have taken their attitudes straight from the 1950s.

Mr. Clean

Magazine advert for Mr. Clean cleaning products, shows a woman and her daughter cleaning, tag line 'This mothers day, get back to the job that really matters'

It was Mothers’ Day in the US recently, and Mr Clean decided to run this advert for the occasion. Maybe I’m misinterpreting the advert. Maybe Mothers’ Day in the US is a bit different to the UK. Either way, the apparent message of “Get back to the cleaning! And get your daughter to help, she needs to learn!” seems a little… well, off.

Goldstar Beer

Advert for beer, complex diagram showing the choices of drink for a woman - many feminine options - and the choices for a man - one pint of beer.

Goldstar Beer have an interesting view of how drinking works, one that manages to simultaneously insult both men and women. Women are complex and have to worry about matching their drinks (girly, fruity drinks, naturally) to their outfits, because they’re shallow like that. Men, meanwhile, are simple-minded creatures who are only capable of desiring one thing: beer. And not even good beer. Crappy mass-market beer.

Goldstar have another advert in this campaign that manages to be even worse on some levels – take a look for yourself here.


Advert for Nike trainers. Ugly cluttered graphics of sporting things and vague swirls, tag line 'The only thing worse than going to the ballet is going to the ballet to watch your son.'

It’s not just gender that advertising fails on either. Here we get a delightful intersection of gender and homophobia from the fine folks at Nike. Because ballet isn’t manly, you see, and you don’t want your son to do something that isn’t manly. Best buy him some Nike trainers as soon as you can and get him doing something macho like soccer, before the homosexuals lure him into their sordid world of energetic dance routines and toned calf muscles. Because that is totally how reality works. Yes.


Advert for diamonds. A string of diamonds on a black background and the tag line 'Hey, what do you know, she think you're funny again.'

Women, you see, are basically like magpies, only larger and incapable of flight. So not very good magpies. But like magpies, women are innately drawn to shiny shiny things; the shinier the better. And as DeBeers know, if you feed her craving for shiny objects then she’ll pretend to like you and sate your desperate need for validation. Which, of course, is all women are good for. (That and cooking you dinner, which is a talent the common magpie rarely excels at.)

Wait no, all of that was wrong. What the hell, DeBeers? Really?

Prudential Financial

Insurance advert featuring a man and his son looking worried on a sofa, and text about the financial repercussions of your wife dying without insurance.

Social values, 1950s style. Cooking, cleaning, caring for your child. These all start with C. More importantly, they’re all things that the wife does, because hey, it’s not like she has a job, right? Women in the workplace? Madness! And all of those things are time consuming; why, hiring someone to do them all would be fairly expensive. When your wife dies, you won’t be grieving over the loss of your life’s love, you’ll be wondering who’s going to make dinner if you can’t afford to hire a cook. So you’d better get life insurance out on her. Or, I guess, buy some diamonds and lure a magpie, either way.

Qsol Servers

Advert for Qsol servers. A woman's face and the tag line 'Don't feel bad, our servers won't go down on you either.'

I was going to say something bitingly snarky and witty, but… I just… wow. I’ve been defeated by this advert. Just imagine I said something hilarious and cutting and you’re all very entertained.

So, defeated by that last advert, I’m going to stop here. I implore all of you to go out and get jobs in advertising and make better adverts than these, so that we can someday feature them in Found Feminism.

18 Responses leave one →
  1. ZaraAudron permalink
    May 17, 2011

    Wow, those are . . . impressively bad. Especially the Nike one. It reminds me a bit of

    with the “Inforce those gender roles or die!” kind of attitude. Or Jonathon Ross’s rant about how if your son asks for a Hannah Monatna ipod you should put him up for adoption before he brings his boyfrind home. Bleugh to say the least.
    As for the Mr Clean advert some people on SocImages thought that it meant that Mr Clean helps you clean faster so kids can spend more time with you on mothers’ day, but even so, the fact that it seems to be a daughter helping her clean rather than her son or both suggests that the cleaning itself is supposed to be fun.

  2. Russell permalink
    May 17, 2011

    That Mr Clean one is bizarre. It basically implies that while cleaning is a woman’s job, she needs help from a man or male gendered product to do it properly in the first place. So, um, what was the point again?

  3. Pet Jeffery permalink
    May 17, 2011

    While I can understand why you might wish to end this post on a positive note, it seems to me that joining the advertising business in order to reform it from within is a project as little likely to succeed as doing the same to the Catholic church. Essentially, the purpose of advertising is to manipulate people into buying things they don’t want. To that end, people in the advertising business will do anything with which they can get away, and which they believe will work. Sexist adverts exist because they succeed (or, at least, advertisers believe that they succeed) in manipulating people into buying the products — which is deeply sad.

    On a positive note, I am sufficiently outraged by the DeBeers advert to boycott their diamonds. That should scare them!

    • Russell permalink
      May 17, 2011

      I think that’s a little bit of a simplistic view of advertising; it’s not totally about manipulation. I think on a more basic level advertising is all about making people aware of things. Persuasion comes at a later stage. It is true that a lot of advertising is based on fear but like it or not advertising is a part of modern society, and to dismiss it as purely a negative based on manipulation is to ignore a lot of the good it can actually do.

      That good not being done in any of the adverts mentioned in the article, obviously.

      • Pet Jeffery permalink
        May 18, 2011

        Your positive attitude to advertising astonishes me. Leaving aside classified ads, I can’t recall a single instance, in my 64 years on this planet, of taking anything useful from them.

        Classified ads are another matter, I will admit. I have turned to them for making me aware of things — not least in applying for employment.

        My assumption is (and, I think, has always been) that slick-looking adverts are (at best) misleading. The slicker they seem, it’s always seemed to me, the more sinister a game they’re attempting to play with me.

        Perhaps this is a generation thing, I am (as I’ve said) 64. Over those years, adverts have taken on an increasingly slick appearance, something which has increased by suspicion of them.

        On the other hand, rather than a generation thing, it may be that I’m paranoid.

        • Miranda permalink*
          May 18, 2011

          I’ve seen some excellent advertising from charities such as Amnesty.

          Twitter is also how BadRep itself advertises to readers; like it or not, the design of our logo is arguably part of a brand. A fun brand, but nonetheless, one could argue that we do use basic marketing strategies to hold the attention of people long enough to make them visit our site…

          It’s a broad view of advertising as we obviously don’t run this site for profit. But things like the NHS chlamydia testing campaign which is run in tube stations in inner London areas are excellent examples of advertising used to educate and reach people.

        • May 18, 2011

          Off the top of my head, some examples of positive advertising: Charities, public health campaigns (drink-driving, salt consumption, smoking cessation, and signs of stroke all being recent examples), and generally any sort of awareness raising for good causes and ideas (TfL’s cycling safety ads, promotion of things like all the recent marches, etc).

          • Russell permalink
            May 18, 2011

            @Rob – but would you therefore classify any example of advertising which isn’t promoting public awareness of some issue as “bad” advertising? I wouldn’t go that far; certainly there are bad adverts (see above for a few choice examples) but good advertising is able to inform, persuade, and entertain as well, sometimes even regardless of what it is promoting. On the other hand some ads are boring, prejudiced, or scary. There’s an entire range.

        • Russell permalink
          May 18, 2011

          Perhaps it is, and perhaps it’s that I’m materialistic, but it’s rare the “persuasive” element of any form of advertising takes hold with me. If I see an advert for Bright And Shiny New Thing, very often I will have wanted Bright And Shiny New Thing before seeing the ad, but be unaware that it had been released for sale at the time. The ad makes me aware of it, so I go and buy it, because I want Bright And Shiny New Thing for some other rational reason, not because the bright colours and witty slogans have “made” me want it for some reason other than it being the next installment in some manner of episodic tale, it fitting together nicely with Worn And Well Thumbed Old Thing, it being the perfect thing to go in that corner of my flat, etc.

          It’s also important to bear in mind that there are many forms of advertising. Articles in various publications and word of mouth are also, like it or not, forms of advertising used to sell products. As Miranda said even Bad Rep itself is a brand to some extent. Advertising can also be used to inform people of their entitlements, persuade them to help others, or warn them of danger (though there are certainly bad examples of this latter one, both in selling and in a certain series of mini-cab ads mentioned on this very blog a while ago).

          I don’t think advertising, branding, or marketing are things which are evil in and of themselves. Very often they are used badly or for purposes which we may rightly disapprove of, but they are not in themselves negative. In any case, advertising is something which is endemic in our society, and perhaps in any post-industrial society, so we had better hope it can be used for good.

  4. wererogue permalink
    May 17, 2011

    Nice article – awful adverts.

    I’m actually a *little* impressed by the Prudential ad – they do at least mention that your “spouse” might have an income, and it’s rare that media acknowledges that traditional “housewife” (housespouse?) activities are valuable. If it didn’t say “Imagine a world without her?” at the top it’d be pretty good.

    Oh god, the Mr. Clean one :(

  5. Helen permalink
    May 17, 2011

    I can’t see the cigarette ad.

    Agree with the article. So much… I think the term is gender essentialism but I am not too sure. It is so ingrained and so hard to get away from and such utter bollocks.

    It mostly signifies that they haven’t got anything worth saying about their actual product. The “beer” one particularly fails to say anything about the “beer” in question whilst being infuriatingly insulting to all concerned.

  6. Russell permalink
    May 17, 2011

    I’ve just noticed this, but I think one of the “shoes” in the beer ad is a sock.

  7. May 17, 2011

    These ads are all awful – I don’t have much more of a comment to make than that.

    I’m perplexed, however, by the implication in the Goldstar Beer one that men go to the pub naked :-/

  8. Pet Jeffery permalink
    May 18, 2011

    The strange thing (to my mind) about the Goldstar Beer adverts in that:

    (a) They’re obviously aimed at men.

    Combined with:

    (b) That they present sexual stereotypes more offensive about men than about women.

    The Goldstar advert to which there’s a link (not actually reproduced in the post) is especially strange in this regard. The message seems to be that women are grownups (concerned about relationships and raising families) while men have their development arrested in adolescence (concerned only with drunkenness and sex). This is remarkably similar to the negative view of men Valerie Solanas expressed in her SCUM Manifesto.

  9. May 30, 2011

    Hi Rob,

    So *you’re* the BadRep goon? ;) I also thought the GBS thread on current media with 50s assumptions was brilliant, if depressing. It was also great to see a discussion of feminism on a popular majority-male forum which didn’t dismiss sexist ads as harmless. Maybe there is hope for our species after all.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Little link round-up | Nerves Strengthened with Tea
  2. Little link round-up « Flaming Culture
  3. Little link round-up – Things As They Are

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS