Gender equality

Six examples of Mad Men-style sexism and gender stereotyping in modern ads

Sexist advertising was the norm in the 1960s, but 50 years on and it seems that things have not really changed. Here are some examples that angered the online community

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 September, 2017, 7:45pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 April, 2018, 11:41am

Swim and surf brand Billabong made the wrong kind of waves last month with two ads on its US website, one showing a man doing an impressive leap over a gigantic wave; the other showing a bikini-clad woman sitting seductively on the beach.

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Karen Knowlton, who drew attention to the adverts in Women 2.0, wrote: “Man as subject, shredding waves. Woman as object, back arched and head dropped back for ultimate titillating effect on the viewer. This doesn’t even pretend to be an image of a woman having fun on the beach, actually enjoying her beautiful body in the perfect swimsuit. It’s just straight objectification ... This kind of imagery impacts the psyche of women and girls far beyond whatever marketing moron you entrusted your site to could even imagine.”

The words worked – Billabong replaced the ad with one showing a woman on a board.

In July German carmaker Audi was criticised for its advert on the mainland that compared women to second-hand cars. The ad shows a wedding interrupted by the groom’s mother, who examines the bride’s teeth and behind her ears. Satisfied, the mother walks off, giving the betrothed couple an OK sign. The mother then signals that she forgot to check the bride’s breasts. An Audi car is then shown with the voice over: “An important decision must be made carefully.”

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Unsurprisingly, social media buzzed with complaints, not just about sexism but about cultural stereotypes. “Has Audi lost its mind to compare women to second-hand cars,” said one comment on Sina Weibo. “Withdraw the video from the internet and apologise in public!” said another.

Also in July, Czech beer company Aurosa got noticed for all the wrong reasons when it released

“the first beer for women”. On its website the beer, which comes in a pretty pink bottle, is described as “a representation of a woman’s strength and a girl’s tenderness”. Social media blew up but the makers were defiant.

Then there was Seat’s Mii, a car designed for women. While not pink – it’s purple – it comes with a handbag hook, and “eyeliner headlights” that are “emphasised in the same way as make-up emphasises the eye”, according to the manufacturer. It’s right up there with Bic, which in 2012 released a line of pens for women called Bic for Her – in pretty pinks and purples.

Last year in Hong Kong, an advert for Japanese clothing company Evisu came under fire for objectifying women. Its posters, promoting an autumn-winter collection, featured models Shaun Ross and Camilla Christensen in controversial poses, including Christensen wearing full-body nude tights and a lifeless expression, while being carried upside down by Ross. The ads were shot by controversial US photographer Terry Richardson, who has been accused by some models of sexual harassment.

In 2007, luxury watchmaker IWC Schaffhausen came under fire for its Big Pilot’s Watch advert, which carried the tagline: “Often seen on stewardess’ bedside tables”. The ad also describes the watch as “engineered for men”, “not infrequently spotted in bedrooms”, and claims that its seven-day battery reserve “means you can afford to stay in bed that little bit longer than usual”.

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Flight attendants in Hong Kong protested and the ad was pulled the following day. John Findlay, general secretary of the Aircrew Officers Association, which represents Hong Kong pilots, said both pilots and flight attendants objected to the “tasteless” advertisement.