Last week, I was watching some film or other on TV with a few friends. Naturally, we engaged in some pseudo hoity-toity rah-rah intellectual badinage about such-and-such a character’s motivation during the ad breaks. That is, until the Diet Coke ad came on. You know, the one where the five randy 20-something chicks encourage some gardener with a six-pack to get his kit off so that they can fantasise about doing the nasty with him, while the soundtrack “I just wanna make love to you” blatantly blares away.
Yes, I’m aware that “chicks” is sexist; I’ve used the word for that very reason. The ad is pretty gratuitous as far as pre-watershed ads go. All the babes (sorry) are wearing smouldering mouth-slightly-open “oooh, what I wouldn’t do to that body” expressions, as Mr Perfect Gardener unwittingly sprays his can of Diet Coke all over his ripped body which the love bunnies have rolled down the hill towards him.
Look, in reality, I don’t really give a monkey’s about the overt sexism in the ad. Not least because I look every bit as good as he does since I hired a personal trainer and the whole scenario is kind of one of my fantasies. (Not really.) But it does seem very odd to me that, in the 21st century when there is supposed equality and feminism, these types of ads still get made. Despite what some people think, feminism does not mean objectifying men or putting them down in favour of women to redress the balance. It’s about making treating both sexes equally, which most normal people would consider to be a good thing.
Imagine if the roles were reversed: a group of guys getting a girl’s t-shirt wet so that they could fantasise about her. Just wouldn’t happen. At least, not on anything but the adult channels.
Interestingly, the only ads we as a group could think of where women were being portrayed as sexual objects were those where the target audience was women. That terrible Scarlett Johansson one for Dolce & Gabbana perfume and the Herbal Essences shampoo “yes, yes, yeeeees!” one. We did wonder about the Lynx ads, but these days their message seems to be that men are sexual incompetents anyway, and we were all a bit grossed out by the “premature perspiration” series. Yuk.
Going back to this current Diet Coke ad, I decided to check whether the Advertising Authority had had any complaints about it. Apparently not, which I found slightly surprising. Especially since one back in 2009 did, for the most ludicrous of reasons:
The singer Duffy comes off stage from one of her concerts and ends up cycling around the streets, singing away to herself while everyone she passes joins in. She eventually gets back to the stage in time to sing her encore. Not much to complain about there, you’d think.
And yet 18 people complained that her behaviour was (wait for it) prejudicial to health and safety because she wasn’t wearing a helmet or reflective clothing.
How utterly daft and/or bored do you have to be to write in to the ASA to complain about that? Haven’t people got better things to think about?
In what I can only assume was a justifiably tongue-in-cheek response, Coca-Cola stated that they rigorously consulted the Highway Code about the regulations for riding a bicycle on a public highway. Among other things, these regulations state that it is advisable to wear reflective clothing when riding in the dark. That’s why they dressed her in a sequined top which gave her “a luminous glow”.
Needless to say, the complaints were not upheld. But it does make me wonder what sort of ads make people write to the ASA today. Sexism apparently isn’t one of them. Many people, myself included, evidently couldn’t care less about a topless hunk being the object of a group of horny young women’s sexual fantasy. But that notwithstanding, I’m surprised that the advertising world hasn’t moved on from the mantra of “sex sells”. It just seems a bit easy. A bit cheap. And if you haven’t seen the Diet Coke ad in question yet, click here to view it. What do you think?
Ashley is a blogger, copywriter and editor.
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