Dear Barb and Laurie,
Like both of you, I’m a woman who works in advertising and marketing.
Like both of you, I’m also a mother.
I have two daughters, ages 12 and 14. I watched the Super Bowl with my younger girl Sunday night. And when your “Body Paint” and “Valentine’s Night” commercials played, I felt a mix of anger, confusion and sadness.
Confusion, because I wasn’t sure how to discuss these things with the pre-teen girl at my side.
And sadness, because I felt momentarily hopeless for the girls and boys like her – and like your own children – who will soon try to find their way in a society that promotes such harmful attitudes toward women.
Barb, your commercial showed a woman’s naked body being painted with your logo and copy points, thus turned into a billboard – a dehumanized object.
Laurie, your ad treats love as a transaction, where flowers become payment for sex from a woman, an object to be used for the man’s pleasure.
Your ads aren’t sexy. They’re sexist. Here are just a few reasons why that’s bad.
- A 2011 study from the University of Buffalo reports that media featured “10 times more hypersexualized images of women than men between the 1960’s and 2009.” The authors also conclude that “Sexualized portrayals of women have been found to legitimize or exacerbate violence against women and girls, as well as sexual harassment and anti-women attitudes among men and boys.”
- Michael Flood, a researcher at Australia’s LaTrobe University, also reports that “Men who agree with sexist, patriarchal, or sexually hostile attitudes are much more likely than other men to assault women.”
- According to this 2011 Princeton University study, “sexualized women were perceived as having the least control over their own lives.”
- Objectification has been linked to mood and eating disorders in women, according to this study published in the 2004 British Journal of Clinical Psychology.
Thankfully, your sexist commercials aren’t going uncriticized, and there’s been a backlash in social media, including hundreds of tweets Sunday night featuring the hashtag #NotBuyingIt. Many were from website owners who had pulled their registration and hosting from Go Daddy. I can only hope that men and women alike will order their Valentine’s bouquets from florists not affiliated with Teleflora.
Super Bowl XLVI drew an average of 113 million viewers – 46 percent of them women, who are more likely to watch the commercials than men. Your companies missed an opportunity not only to show positive role models for girls and boys and men and women, but also to make a positive impression on the 51 million women watching your ads – the very consumers who are responsible for making 85% of household purchase decisions.
Although yours weren’t the only offending ads, there were plenty of Super Bowl commercials that didn’t stoop to sexism to grab attention. I firmly believe that you can do the same.
As a marketer, I urge you to do it for your business.
As a mom, I urge you to do it for your children.