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Sexism in ads – does it turn you on or switch you off?

Scene from Virgin Atlantic advert

Gender stereotyping in advertising is going strong this Christmas. And it’s not just women being short-changed – widespread sexism targets both sexes and is being perpetrated by some of the biggest retailers.

The Advertising Standards Authority is currently investigating Ryanair’s ‘glamour model’ newspaper advert that, it is claimed, objectifies women by showing a scantily-dressed woman under the caption ‘Red Hot Fares & Crew’.

A flight attendant called Ghada is the leader of the change.org campaign against the ad, which has already gathered over 5,000 supporters.

Sexism is rife in ads

But it’s not just Ryanair that’s at it. Gamestation came in for some stick earlier this year when it claimed that its prices are ‘Cheaper than your girlfriend’.

I’ve also just seen the new Boots Christmas advert. ‘Christmas, brought to you by the girls’ depicts a small Charlie’s Angels-style army of women getting everything ready for Christmas. Not only does the advert reinforce the impression of work-shy menfolk staying in bed, but far from celebrating equality, the women are shown doing all the work.

The recent Littlewoods’ Christmas ad was no better – it not only showcased a consumerist generation of unpleasantly grasping children, but laid it all at the door of ‘my lovely, lovely mother’. She presumably did all of that after she’d been to Iceland to buy the Bisto gravy that will somehow keep her family together, but only so long as she stays in the kitchen. I suppose her husband was at home nursing a bad case of man flu while she soldiered on thanks to a certain brand of cold remedy.

She’d just better watch out that she doesn’t pass any men wearing Lynx deodorant while she’s out doing all the chores. Apparently, even angels can’t resist, with women becoming mindless slaves to an otherwise largely undesirable man.

Should it be taken tongue-in-cheek?

Virgin’s knowing TV ad parodying 80s gender stereotypes seems to get away with it, but the ads by Ryanair, Boots, Lynx, Littlewoods et al really grate with me.

You might tell me to get a sense of humour – it’s only an advert after all. However, the pernicious message that these ads send out reinforces unhelpful stereotypes – men are useless, women are there to be objectified and do the household chores.

So do these adverts just reflect daily reality, or is this dog-whistle advertising that knows its core demographic and thinks it can earn more money by appealing to a particular group? And which adverts really wind you up?

See P See says:
16 December 2011

I simply don’t watch adverts, there are so many channels to hop through, or, what I do is make another cuppa or even do a bit of the washing up inbetween – this helps to get the jobs done, slowly but surely. The children’s advert’s on 5 are awful and it’s soul destroying seeing my four year old demand plastic tat that she is forced witness. Thank God for Cbeebies!

And why do most channels turn the volume up on the adverts? It’s seriously annoying, and makes me even turn the channel right down when ads come on.

OR use a pre recorded programme! That way I can zip through to the next bit of telly before I’ve even blinked at a promotion.

You’ll be happy to hear that lots of Convo commenters agree with you on loud ads: http://bit.ly/p6PB3H We’ll have a follow up about this later this month.

With some of these ads, I take them more as tongue in cheek – I quite like the Lynx ones for examples. Others you’ve point out though Martyn do grate. Maybe advertisers find stereotypes are actually more successful in getting people to buy things? Either that or they’re lazy, uninspired and being deliberately sexist…

Which advert winds me up? Homebase

With probably the worst dirge of whistle song I have ever heard and one that they have been using for about 2 years. When it starts up I immediately switch to the next channel regardless of what is on, I really hate that ad and do not shop at homebase as a result

Agree with you dean. I also hate the monotonous British Gas and Wickes ads voiced over by Timothy Spall. He’s a great actor so he can do the tradesman accent very well [as well as play Winston Churchill in “The King’s Speech”] but all this blokey stuff is quite off-putting.

I can’t say that many of these ads bother me. I find the Lynx ads really clever – and this one has amazing production values (and I have to disagree with you Martyn – the man isn’t undesirable!). To me, many of these are poking fun at steroetypes rather than fully reinforcing them. The one that is extremely offensive to me, though, is the ‘cheaper than your girlfriend’ one – not only is it sexist, it’s actively encouraging young men to think of themselves as superior to women, which I don’t think is the message in the others.

I also have to agree when it comes to gender roles in kids’ adverts. Like See P See, Cbeebies is the only channel I allow my daughter to watch freely as ads are just such a bad influence in so many ways!

Frankly I prefer to see beautiful girls in skimpy costumes in adverts – than any man. I consider that normal. My children are over 50 so I think they can make up their own mind.

I dislike adverts about foreign children in distress – their own governments should pay for them – I always switch over. I’d far prefer to see any such adverts concentrating on British children in distress or in orphanages – It would show our government doesn’t support our children enough.

I like such adverts as the meercats and fat singing fellow – they are amusing. I find many adverts better than the programmes.

Artov says:
19 December 2011

Boots have indulged in a prolonged series of sexist adverts showing women as doing all the work while men are lazy and workshy.

It may be tongue in cheek, but if the opposite were presented there would be an outcry. Equality works both ways.

Run the adverts but I, and others I have talked to, will take our business elsewhere.

anon the mouse says:
20 December 2011

Reminds me of the old Knife block “All men are B*******”,
ASA claimed it wouldn’t be mistaken for a man even though that is what it was advertised as.

Like the other recent one, the Regulator has to grow up before the companies they watch will.