Why objectifying men in advertising is equally distasteful and harmful as objectifying women.
In today’s post women’s lib world, marketers need to be careful while creating ads lest their creation gets tagged with the label of sexist and exploiting women. These days even blatant users of the female form such as Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr have avowed that they will endeavour to sell their products by only using the meat they produce and not showcase women as meat for sale. There are two camps about the objectification of women in advertising. Those who abhor it and those who feel it is a legitimate tool to be used. In the era we live in, with empowered women and changed societies, sex and the purely female physical attraction angle in advertising is repeatedly repelled and challenged.
When it comes to the topic of the objectification of men the lines are not that clear. Recently I saw an ad on social media that troubled me. We all know and respect Roger Federer, the world champion tennis player and he being Swiss, is a natural fit for the role of Lindt brand ambassador. However, this TVC (released a few years ago) left me with a strong negative reaction. I have often seen brands using sexual attraction and chocolate to sell themselves, this was the first time I have ever seen a global chocolate brand use their brand ambassador as ‘eye candy’.
Here’s the ad and you can see for yourself what I’m talking about:
Using a person of Federer’s stature as something to get women’s pulses racing is a dubious strategy and definitely not recommended for a brand like Lindt. Many might defend the ad by saying it is levelling the playing field and bringing balance to ads, or others might argue that the ad is in fact meant in fun. To be honest the ad is an extended version of an ad titled Airplane (see below) which showed female airport security guards fawning over both Federer and his chocolates; the premise of the ad is that once the chocolate centre of the Lindor truffles hits you, you will melt.
However, this extended TVC didn’t leave me laughing – Federer is nothing more than a piece of meat. Even worse more than a few women who saw the ad did not find it offensive but pleasing. Sadly it seems, they were thinking with their hormones and not heads. Had the tables been turned and a woman of prominence was used solely for her looks or to titillate, I’m sure the reactions would be quite different and more vocal.
More than a few women who saw the ad did not find it offensive but pleasing. Sadly it seems, they were thinking with their hormones and not heads.
One feminist blogger seemed to echo my thoughts and concerns: “Also, this advert is one of the rare times, along with some perfume adverts, in which a male is objectified. When Federer turns around, one of the staff comments “everything is in the right place” and the comments from the women imply to other men that his body cannot be obtained without working out lots in the gym. I wonder how men feel about this advert.
She continues: If I was a man, I think it would make me feel inadequate for not having Federer’s body and consequently not being the subject to much female attention. As feminists, we are essentially calling for equality, and a stop to the objectification of women, since we do not want to be seen as mere sex objects, but as humans with intellect. So shouldn’t we, as feminists, also call for a stop to the objectification of men? We can’t expect to not be objectified if we objectify men.”
Yet if you watch any ad with David Beckham in it especially, women don’t seem to be concerned about what’s going on in the ad, but gravitate to his face – and if it’s on show, his body. Here’s an example of a Beckham ad that gets women weak at the knees.
A prime example is the H&M bodywear ad in 2013. The ad has more leeway to show him at his athletic best, but it goes further and again under the veil of comedy, sexualises him. The question needs to be asked, who is the target audience for an H&M men’s bodywear line? Men or women?
Contrast these ads with the Old Spice ones with Isaiah Mustafa. This ad that seems to have sexual overtones is actually funnier and more apt for the product than the ads I have talked about. Women have fought long and hard to reduce the use of objectification of their gender in advertising. To some extent on a global level, advertising agencies and bodies have heeded their concerns. It will be a shame if they don’t wake up to the danger of the objectification of men and treat it as equally distasteful.