Sex sold. It’s sold for years. Crispin Porter built nearly an entire agency movement on what was misogynistic frat humor. But that was 10 years ago. That was 50 years ago. This is now. And there’s a growing body of evidence that shows sexy and sexist are all too frequent bedfellows.
Ads like the one you see here for Bayer aspirin are not only a turn off, but a threat and an insult to the eyeballs who are subjected to them.
Following beach-body-ready-gate, I’d hoped people were starting to actually get it. But this was a new low. A creepy gag with a hidden agenda of winning a prestigious Cannes Lion Award.
The most worrying thing? It won. And it was the second show of blatant sexism at the 2016 festival. The first being VaynerMedia’s shameful invite demanding "hot chicks attend" their Cannes party. Ugh.
This aspirin ad screamed past sexism and landed slap-bang in the middle of rape culture. An issue that should be tackled head-on in advertising, not normalised or celebrated.
It doesn’t matter that it came out of Brazil. If it’s happening there, it’s happening everywhere. When visiting Brazil, I was stuck by its vibrancy and colour. Beauty all around. Granted, the bikinis are considerably smaller than those you would find on Brighton beach – but does that mean their women deserve to be treated with less respect?
I’ve gone over and over the process in my head, trying to understand why (and how) the creatives wrote this ad. Bayer, the client who approved the ad, said in a statement to Adweek that the agency only wanted to win awards and that they haven’t advertised Aspirin for "several years". Oh, I see. It’s a scam ad.
True creatives care about their audience first, awards second. Whoever wrote this ad has the talent equal to a piece of lint in the back of your wardrobe.
Their work and their world’s are male dominated. When I was new to the industry I smiled along with sexist chat desperate to be accepted into this boys club. It’s hard being the only one who disagrees, and that’s the only answer I have as to why no one spoke up against this ad.
Gillian Flynn’s description of the "cool girl" can shed some light on the issue: "Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they?
"She’s a Cool Girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size two, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding."
Once you step out of the "Cool Girl" mould, you are out of the club. You are branded uptight. Angry. A mood-hoover. The guys stop asking you to lunch. You are sidelined from projects. Isolation sets in. It’s no fun. You’re fired, or you resign.
This is the story for so many women, not just in the ad business but across industries. It’s hard for many (males too) to put up a hand and say, "umm…this ad is a bit sexist, don’t you think?".
Once you step out of the "Cool Girl" mould, you are out of the club. You are branded uptight. Angry. A mood-hoover. The guys stop asking you to lunch.
Yes, female buying power is so incredibly important to brands but it shouldn’t just be women who have to speak up. Men know what sexism is too, so when it does slip through the net – how do we deal with the jury awarding such work?
The president of the Outdoor jury, Ricardo John, chief creative officer at J Walter Thompson Brazil, commented to Adweek: "We were very careful to remove any ad or campaign that was interpreted as sexist,"
Hello? Ricardo? Is anyone home? Did all that Cannes sunshine and rosé go to your head Ricardo? Did this particular case of sexism slip under the radar? It’s like the jury weren’t live to any current events.
Let’s paint a different picture. What if it wasn’t about awards? What if the agency and brand wanted to do something positive? What if they understood normalising rape culture was a problem, and decided to take a stand?
What if they ran these ads to raise awareness of filming sex without consent? They ploughed money into educating everyone – young and old – about how to play safe and treat each other with respect. Provocative for the sake of change.
At its best, that’s the power of advertising.
The team behind the Bayer ad may have meant no harm, but outside of Cannes, life is different. What starts off as "Chill out babe, I’ll delete this .mov" can easily move into "Stop screaming babe, this won’t hurt .mov".
At its worst, that’s the power of advertising.
Anna Carpen is executive creative director at 18 Feet & Rising