You may have heard by now that Misguided recently had an advert pulled by the Advertising Standards Authority because it invited its audience to “view women as sexual objects”. You’ll have to watch it to get the full gist, but if you can’t be bothered – think seventies soft porn rag with more airbrushing and less bush. The ASA sums it up, perhaps more succinctly, by describing how the campaign shows “models on a beach with their legs apart in seductive poses, a woman running her hand up her inner thigh […] and another woman posing in a bikini with her legs astride on a motorcycle.”
While Misguided have now released a statement claiming that the commercial was intended to empower women, I can’t help but feel that they’ve missed the point entirely. It’s not rocket science to realise that the banning of this advert is damaging to their brand (although I’m sure they’ll survive), but what’s more concerning is that there is still, in this day and age, disagreement over what constitutes as the objectification of women and what is ‘empowering’. That an influential company such as Misguided is at the centre of this – arguing the toss that their advert ‘sells a lifestyle’ rather than demeans women – is outstanding.
Isn’t it time we got past the whole ‘almost-nude woman takes ginormous phallic motorbike for a spin’ type of imagery? If not sexist, it’s outrageously cliched. Admittedly, the ‘girl in spangly gold two-piece gyrates groin against sand in ocean shallows’ shot is marginally more original, but equally as jarring in 2019.
Joking aside, it’s this kind of PG porn that so crassly objectifies women. And we are all, surely, aware by now that this is both damaging and unnecessary. AKA why must one dry hump the ground when one can show off one’s glittering disco ball of an outfit (I really dig it, btw) in any number of non-humpy type manners? Is it because ‘sex sells’? Is it because it’s appealing for women to be portrayed as passive, irresistible temptresses who will be up for a rollicking good time in bed? I’m not convinced.
Of course, it’s in no way bad for a woman to be shown as sexy or gorgeous or totally irresistible in an advert. But there’s a huge distinction to be made between a woman who is sexy and empowered and one whose entire sum of parts is the ability to straddle a motorcycle while looking ‘up for it’. The problem with the Misguided ad is not in the flesh that’s on show, it’s in the splayed legs, the suggestive hand running up the thigh, the evocative strawberry perched between moistened lips. It’s in the forcedly pushed out bums and, yes, the Playboy-esque (and what I can only assume to be highly uncomfortable) sand-humping.
Misguided claim their brand is about empowering women, and yet here they are slipping back into the kind of senseless objectification many have fought so hard to eliminate. If even they can’t see how this is sending the wrong message to women – in particular young women – then it would seem we haven’t come as far as we thought, which is crushingly disappointing.
There’s been some chat around how this advertising ‘faux pas’ was a deliberate marketing stunt orchestrated to bring attention to the brand. If this is the case – shame on you, MG. Just because you can predict the fallout of a contentious campaign, it doesn’t make it any less offensive.
Next time someone says ‘we should be controversial’ or ‘we need to tap into what young people want to see’ during an ideation session, it’s crucial to remember that you, as a brand, also have a responsibility to lead by example. It may seem that ‘sex sells’ and it may seem like young people are more daring and un-PC than ever, but that doesn’t mean it’s ok to tap into some of the most toxic notions in our culture. What’s important is that every brand takes its responsibility to help break this vicious cycle seriously. In the end, that is the only way we’re going to see such damaging stereotypes disappear altogether. And it is, frankly, about time they did.