Sexist advertising is neither 'beyond belief' or a thing of the past

Yesterday, the Daily Mail ran an article featuring sexist ads of the 50s, 60s and 70s. It claimed that, in the patriarchal days of yore, there was “nothing like a semi-clad woman for bringing the customers running.”

It seems more than coincidental that this piece comes hot on the heels of Charles Saatchi’s new book release, Beyond Belief. In it, he claims to bring together the most shocking racist, sexist and offensive advertising campaigns of the last century.

I’m hardly disappointed that the long history of sexist advertising is now deemed a worthy topic for the Middle England masses. But the heavy implication that they are a thing of the past or, equally, are ‘beyond belief’ doesn’t sit too well with me.

The Daily Mail states that “marketing men – and they were mostly men – from the Seventies had few qualms about creating brutally sexist adverts that would never see the light of day today.” Never? That’s not merely an understatement, which the Daily Mail is rarely known for, it’s just plain wrong.

Sure, there are more adverts capitalising on the ‘empowertising’ trend these days. But the broad majority remain stubbornly sexist. And with less than 10 per cent of women holding creative director roles, they are still being made by men. In other ways, advertising has only got worse for women. While beauty, household and childcare products are still targeted to a female demographic, the objectification of women in advertising runs rampant.

In fact, a study by University at Buffalo found that the portrayal of women in the popular media over the last several decades has become increasingly pornified, with women vastly more sexualised than men. In the world of advertising, it seems women still belong in the kitchen. But now they need to look hot while they’re there.

So, let’s take a look at the advertising examples that, according to the Mail, would never be produced by the madmen of today. It starts with a 70s advert for a cigarette brand whose proposition is simple: with the right cigarette on offer, one can expect no-strings-attached sex. Offensive? Definitely. Dated? Not even close. Compared to this modern day vaping ad, in which a woman says seductively to camera, “I want you to get it out. I want to see it, feel it, hold it. Put it in my mouth. I want to see how great it tastes”, the Tiparillo ad is downright quaint.

In another example, petrol retailer Esso offers more than it can deliver with every purchase. Meanwhile, this ad for BMW promises sex with a woman who may or may not be the age of consent.

And how about this well-dressed housewife, fawning over her new cookware? How does she compare to this woman as she bends over her oven, daring her audience to ‘lose control’?

I find it impossible to believe that the Daily Mail reporter is bemused that an advert for an electric blanket can justify the presence of an undressed woman. When fast forward 50 years, this image depicting a simple household task is positively pornified and utterly demeaning.

“It screams of desperation when feminists have to dust off adverts almost 50 years old to find examples of (mild) sexism,” writes one Daily Mail reader.

Forget 50 years. We can go back five days. And this is just the beginning.

Marcie MacLellan is founder and head of content for Incontext Creative. She is also content director for SheSays, a global organisation for women in the creative section.

Images were sourced from World of the Woman.

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