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Offensive and absurd: recent ads hit an astounding new low

            There’s never any shortage of offensive advertising, but I found one recent  television ad so repulsive, I had to write about it.

            It has aired for a few months, seen by millions during the Stanley Cup playoffs. It’s the TV ad for Old Milwaukee beer, showing vintage-style pinup images of two buxom and leggy women, wearing tight and scant outfits from the 1940s-50s era. They appear, in close-up, on either side of an Old Milwaukee beer can, as if they’re about to cuddle it.

            That imagery alone astounded me. I thought that by 2011, many major advertisers have begrudgingly matured enough to portray women as more than just the usual male sex objects. Does Pabst Brewing Company, which brews and owns Old Milwaukee, have such little regard for female sports fans?

            Well, these caricatures weren’t the worst of it. At a rare time when my remote wasn’t muted for commercial breaks during the hockey playoffs, I was appalled to hear the accompanying narration: “A free girl with every can.” How outrageous! This likens women to nothing more than a disposal party favour, ready on demand to provide pleasure and satisfaction — at no cost. What a disgusting affront to females of every age.

            For pure tasteless exploitation, this ranks almost as high as the United Colors of Benetton’s former ads, which used scenes from real-life Third World suffering to grab interest and juxtapose against their luxury fashions.

            Part of me is shocked that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation accepted this sexist piece of tripe, yet I know that the network is desperate for revenue. Ironically, decades ago, the CBC refused to run a short TV ad that portrayed logging companies, destroying B.C. forests, as bloated pigs. The ad was meant to present an alternative view  to the “Forests Forever” TV ads running on the network at the time. Outraged by the CBC decision, Vancouverite Kalle Lasn launched Adbusters, now an international magazine and media organization that slams consumer culture and mainstream advertising.

            I plan to write to both CBC and Pabst and let them know what I think about the Old Milwaukee ad. If you find this ad offensive, I encourage you to do the same.

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            When my husband told me this week that he heard a radio ad for a product called Fresh Balls, I was dumbfounded. What will marketers think of next? Is there any part of the human form left that adertisers haven’t identified as badly needing to be fixed in some way? Some wily, creative ad agency type must have figured: “Hey, why not grab guys by the balls (metaphorically)? Here’s a whole untapped market we can focus on.”

            The cream is supposed to keep “your private area” dry, clean and fresh, instead of “sweaty, sticky and chafing”, which apparently “all men suffer from.” Daily application is recommended as part of a man’s regular “grooming routine”; frequency uses up more product, right?

June 12, 2011 at 6:26 pm
  • June 27, 2011 at 10:49 amMichael Maser

    As you know, Heather, advertising repulses me to my core. It is an odious racket that seems to get sleazier and more amoral with each passing month; a check of ‘Advertising Age’ or ‘Marketing’ its Canadian cousin, helps to illuminate the depth of depravity this industry wallows to in its efforts to hook our attention, engineer us (from womb to tomb) and fleece us. And as Adbusters and so many other dedicated social organizations amply point out, advertising and marketing contribute very significantly to a litany of social, environmental and economic problems worldwide.
    It’s simple to see but ridding the beast from our personal imaginations and the psyches of our communities is not so easy, is it.
    A pox on them! I say. – michael

  • June 21, 2011 at 8:37 amHeather Conn

    Thanks for your insightful comments, Erica. You’re right about the racism, although there is still a lot of tokenism. I think that sexist imagery and portrayals have been around for so long that society, as a whole, takes them for granted. I’ve always said that if the roles were suddenly reversed and men were portrayed that way so pervasively, they’d be screaming. It makes me think of the response to the movie An Unmarried Woman many years ago. I heard lots of men complaining that they thought the male roles in the film were unfairly negative and unrealistic; many women, including myself, thought that they accurately captured the character of men that we had dated. Yet, did any of these men complain when women were shown in stereotypical ways? No.

  • June 21, 2011 at 7:04 amErica

    I agree with you 100%. Looks like we are still in the dark ages when it comes to sexism. You can just buy, use and discard women like a “used beer can”. I will be contacting both Pabst and CBC as it is also disgusting that CBC network would allow such advertising especially during a game where there are not only many women watching but also children as well. A lot of ads anger me though especially ones during sports games. I thought sports were a family past time to watch, so why do so many ads have adult content in it? Problem is not enough women complain and many I talk to aren’t bothered by these types of ads, so there is the problem right there. Racism was fought really hard and therefore there is much more respect for immigrants and minorities as they don’t put up with being treated like a lesser human. There is far less (if any) racist advertising as if there was anything like like it would be banned immediately due to a huge backlash. Women are far too passive when it comes to sexism.

  • June 14, 2011 at 8:09 amFrank McElroy

    You may not be aware of this, but “Fresh Balls” also comes in a pink tube for “her.” Whether this means the manufacturer has a product for application to essential female parts or simply suggests the female can apply the male product to the male parts is not made clear in the the advertising.

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