It's High Time for an Advertising Revolution


Almost a year after the ASA brought about new reforms to stamp out gender stereotyping in adverts, how much of a difference has this really made?


I look forward to the day that I turn on the television and don’t have to encounter Nicole Scherzinger re-enacting a certain scene from When Harry Met Sally immediately after opening a pot of low-fat yoghurt. This phenomena of modern Western culture - the sexy yoghurt ad - is the perfect example of why I hate advertisements and how they’re ruining our lives.

Of course there have been equally awful, if not worse ads out there. Recently there’s the new trend of making the laughably-unfunny, forcedly-bizarre ads, attempting to copy the success(?) of the likes of the Cadbury ‘gorilla playing a drum kit’ ad, or the walking death-threat receptacle whom we affectionately call - The Go-Compare Man... however, while extremely irritating, these ads have little-to-no connection with society or our future as humans; while sexy yoghurt woman, in a small way, does.

It follows in the age-old footsteps of exaggerated gender constructs being played out and exploited by ad agencies, and, while Miss Scherzinger’s inappropriate for pre-watershed reaction to dairy is possibly tongue in cheek (although it doesn’t quite play that way), it still perpetuates the damaging gender constructs that reign over us. It is also particularly telling of who it is behind these ads - that the female orgasm is seemingly the butt of the joke in this campaign - while the normalisation of porn in pop culture has also played a large role in why and how this erotic yoghurt monstrosity was ever allowed to happen.

The hero of many-a feminist, Judith Butler, said that ‘Masculine and feminine roles are not biologically fixed, but socially constructed’ and so we can take from this that:
a) Gender isn’t real but just a game we are all begrudgingly playing
or, b) There is a Don Draper wannabe out there who believes that our understanding of femininity and womanhood can be concentrated into a 30 second timeframe, whereby a woman practices yoga on a mountain range, helps herself to a tiny bowl of muesli, and tells us at home to do the same, and then we will be happy.

Rather than beating this dead horse any longer (a very unladylike action), let’s talk about the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and how they aim to fix this issue.
             Around this time last year, the ASA launched: ‘Depictions, Perceptions and Harm: a report on gender stereotypes in advertising’, an operation to stamp-out gender stereotyping in marketing. In the article they published explaining the changes to be made, they claim that they ‘hope to smooth out the rougher edges’ of advertising and aim to ‘help advertisers stay the right side of the line.’ Yeah… I have no idea what that actually means either. But, what I do know is that this report was largely created in response to the many complaints made after the infamous ‘Are You Beach Body Ready?’ ad by Protein World was plastered around - an ad that aimed to shame and disgrace every and all female tube passenger into buying their weight loss product in order to become fit for public consumption. Thus, we can assume the ASA did not come to this realisation of their own volition. 

Yet, with this report, many commented that we should not be so worried about adverts, that they aren’t really that important, and that we have many more things to be getting on with. And, while I do find myself in partial agreement, I just don’t buy into this way of thinking wholly. If stereotypes in adverts aren’t important enough to be discussed until the more pressing matters are dealt with, then this country has a real issue with multi-tasking. Plus, what do these people think the ASA does all day? Would you rather they came up with theories on how to take down Putin or how to create peace in the Middle East?

Advertising has always been riddled with various ‘isms’ and ‘-phobias’, and it really isn’t as bad as it used to be, I’ll admit. But let’s not just sit back and watch with square eyes as companies meander around the new guidelines and find some new awful insecurity to exploit. A study by Charles University is quoted as saying that advertising language is established "as a type of a text of its own”, highlighting how no advert is ever really based in reality, but an imagined one where women smile a blinding toothy grin as they hoover the carpet. In the future, perhaps we might see an advertising campaign to buy a new line of sweatshop-free pantsuits, aimed at the abundance of female CEO's. Perhaps we'll even see the rise of a revolutionary hashtag: #GirlsCanExploitWorkersToo. 

Just one more example of these ‘faux-woke’ adverts lies with Dove and their body-positive ‘Real Beauty’ marketing campaign that has been going on since 2004, whereby they claim to support and celebrate each shape and size of a woman. And yet, Dove is a company owned by Unilever, which also produces the Fair and Lovely skin bleaching cream, popular in over 40 countries. And let’s not even talk about that racially tone-deaf advert they made only a few months ago.

To sum it all up, adverts are awful. They always have been and always will be. However as a society I think we are quietly moving away from the gender discourse whilst simultaneously facing it head on in a way only we are capable of doing. I’m not sure if Simone de Beauvoir or Marsha P. Johnson would be totally proud of what we’ve achieved so far but who are we to complain? To quote a well-known, irritating advert: every little helps.