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aerie underwear campaign embraces real women February 16, 2014

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Perhaps taking a page out of Dove’s book, American Eagle’s sister store for lingerie, aerie, launched a new ad campaign in 2014 embracing real women. The new ads feature unretouched models in the companies apparel, marking a stark contrast to ads coming from competitors like Victoria’s Secret.

So far, the attention given to the campaign has been overwhelmingly positive. Indeed, the women in the ads are still amazingly attractive and hardly representative of the “average” woman. Yet, as one critic for adweek.com stated, “In a world where Photoshop morphs already super hot models into super hot models with thigh gap and flawless skin and inhuman proportions (Google Victoria’s Secret Photoshop Fails for glorious examples), this is a step in the right direction.”

For more on this new campaign, see the following videos:

Discussion Questions:

1.  How might campaigns like aerie’s change the culture of objectification of women? Is this even possible?

2.  Are such strategies becoming commonplace mainly to combat objectification, or to market products with a greater sense of goodwill?

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Pantene ad on women appeals to global audience December 19, 2013

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A Philippine ad for Pentene went viral in December. The spot portrays the double-bind that women often face, being labeled negatively for things for which men get praised. Well over 8 million people have viewed the ad on YouTube. It helped that Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg called it “one of the most powerful videos I have seen illustrating how when men and women do the same things they are seen in completely different ways.” Unsurprisingly, Procter & Gamble is taking the ad campaign global now.

While many are calling the new ad campaign uplifting and empowering, some women don’t see it the same way. Comedian and writer Hesseltine wrote for The Huffington Post, “This is playing the victim if I’ve ever witnessed it, and not all women think this way, nor want to. But thanks for the note, Pantene.” Hesseltine sarcastically concluded:

“Yes, women still get paid less than men and it blows; so let’s see an intelligent article/video exploring that with facts, educated opinions, and an inspirational undertone rather than a “woe is women” piece with a song that should be on an ASPCA commercial. How about: “Screw double standards! You can do anything men can do… and even do it better!” instead of “Don’t forget ladies, while men are being persuasive, you may come off as pushy. And don’t show too much confidence or people will think you’re showy.””

To see the Pantene ad yourself, watch the following video:


Discussion Questions:

1.  What is the double-bind for women? How does Pantene tap into common experiences for females to build goodwill for its products?

2.  Is the Pantene ad genuine, or a mere cooptation of feminism?

3.  Is Hesseltine’s criticism over the top? Why, or why not?

Gender in advertising: What if tables were turned on men? November 8, 2013

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Feminist media scholar Jean Kilbourne was a pioneer when she began talking about the image of women in advertising in the 1970s. Her slideshow academic talk morphed into the documentary Killing Us Softly in 1979, forcefully making the argument that ads create an impossible standard of beauty that hurts women’s self-esteem and reinforces norms of a patriarchal society. The documentary was updated in 1987, 2000, and 2010. As Kilbourne warns anyone who will listen, “It’s gotten much worse. The tyranny of the ideal image of beauty, the sexualization of children, the objectification of women — it’s all gotten worse.” She adds, though, “The thing that’s gotten better is the fact I’m not the only person talking about this anymore.”

Kilbourne has become a bit of a hero to generations of media scholars and students who have viewed her film. So much so that some have been inspired to do a bit of “culture jamming” so encouraged in Kilbourne’s work. Recently, for instance, a group of students at the University of Saskatchewan were challenged to create a viral video in their gender studies class, and produced many of the same ads from Kilbourne’s talk with gender roles reverse. That video, which earned those students an A, was a huge hit. You can see that video below:

Discussion Questions:

1.  How do ads, according to Kilbourne, objectify women?

2.  What are the harms of such objectification?

3.  What argument is made in the video above, and how does it relate to Kilbourne’s point?

HelloFlo’s “Camp Gyno” shows evolving nature of advertising August 16, 2013

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A new ad for HelloFlo, a tampon subscription service, is getting rave reviews. The funny spot tells the story of a young girl who is the first to get her period during summer camp. The girl, once neglected and unpopular, becomes the source of all knowledge on periods, and begins trading tampons and advice like she’s a drug dealer. The ad offers many hilarious images and one-liners, especially when she curses HelloFlo’s care packages for causing her fall. Toward the end of the ad, the girl states, “The whole camp started getting friggin’ care packages in the mail, with tampons and panty liners and candy! All perfectly timed to their cycle! It’s like Santa for your vagina!”

Why are critics loving the ad, aside from its humorous approach? Tampon ads have a history of ambiguity, blue fluids, and even shame. Not this time. The Camp Gyno ad uses pretty explicit terms like period, red, gyno, menstruation, vag, and vagina. As NPR’s Elise Hu described, the ad is a part of a new trend in advertising. She states, “Today, marketing has undergone a major shift toward openly acknowledging what was previously taboo.” Quoting Ad Age‘s creativity director Ann Diaz, Hu’s article added, “What’s driving a lot of marketing today is the explosion of social media. People are able to converse freely with friends and about brands. And people are able to have a huge platform for expressing their views about everything. So in order for brands to connect with consumers, they have to talk like real people.”

To see the Camp Gyno ad yourself, watch the following ad:

Discussion Questions:

1.  What could explain the viral nature of HelloFlo’s “Camp Gyno” ad? Why is it so effective?

2.  Why is it that makers of feminine hygiene products seem to have more creative freedom in advertising than ever before?

3.  Why were euphemisms and other forms of ambiguous language seen as necessary when advertising was limited to television, radio, and print? How has new media changed cultural expectations of advertising?

Parents outraged: Willow Smith, 12, wants a summer fling July 13, 2013

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Willow Smith, daughter of entertainers Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, is out with a new music video for her song “Summer Fling.” Willow sings about how a summer fling is “just for a few months, but we do it anyway,” and appears in the video with much older boys and girls flirting with one another. For those who don’t know, a fling has sexual connotations, much like “hooking up.” Unsurprisingly, the love crazed single is angering many parents and experts on children. Speaking about the pre-teen’s new song, psychiatrist Dr. Carole Lieberman argued recently, “It is not age-appropriate for a 12-year-old to be singing these kinds of lyrics or to be involved in a scenario like this. The argument may be that it’s pretend, but there is the psychological impact on her. Do you want your 12-year-old already seen as a sex symbol?” Another parenting expert, Robyn Siberman, was quoted in an article posted to Yahoo, saying, “A summer fling is usually used to describe something physical, sexual, with no long-term attachment. People don’t want to hear about 12-year-olds talking about good-night kisses. It feels out of place; too old and sexualized.”

Willow has some backers, though. Pop culture expert Jenn Hoffman is contending that the star’s critics are overreacting. Hoffman contended, “When I was 12 years old I was madly in love with my boyfriend. To tell me otherwise would be completely dismissive of the feelings I was going through at the time. Who are we to tell Willow Smith that she is too young to be feeling these things? In 2013 12 years old doesn’t seem too young for a legit summer fling.”

See Willow Smith’s controversial new video below:

Discussion Questions:

1.  Does the term “summer fling” really mean for Willow Smith what parents and child experts are saying it does?

2.  Do videos like Smith’s influence youth culture? If so, why does this worry parents?

3.  Is Smith’s video really all that different from anything else found on television or the radio?

Dove finds another hit ad campaign with “Sketches” April 29, 2013

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Dove has been the talk of the internet in April 2013 after releasing a new ad called “Real Beauty Sketches.” The company conducted a social experiment featuring seven women who would tell an FBI-trained sketch artist what they looked like. Then, strangers who had just met the women would also tell the sketch artist what the women looked like during a separate meeting. The sketches were dramatically different, with women describing themselves in far harsher terms than they were described by strangers.

While Dove first said that reaction to the ad was amazingly positive, those reactions are now mixed. Some critics are claiming that there is a lack of racial diversity in the ad, and that the company is perpetuating the same beauty myth it is criticizing. Given that the ad is viral now, though, there’s enough evidence to suggest that it has been quite effective.

Despite being effective in reaching millions of viewers, the “Sketches” ad may not succeed in selling soap. According to Ad Age‘s Loren Grossman, while 70 percent of consumers polled said the commercial made them feel better about Dove, only 30 percent reported that they were more likely to buy products from the company.

To see the ad yourself, watch the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  What is the general message of Dove’s “Sketches” ad?

2.  Why has Dove come under attack for the ad?

3.  Why might effective advertising have no impact on products actually being sold?

Google uses power to promote gay rights abroad July 25, 2012

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Google has kicked off its “Legalize Love” campaign, designed to fight anti-homosexuality laws in several nations. Explaining the purpose of the campaign, Google executive Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe stated, “We want our employees who are gay or lesbian or transgender to have the same experience outside the office as they do in the office.” The campaign, which starts with a conference in London, has come under heavy criticism by Christian groups. However, Google has clarified that it seeks to improve working and living conditions for members of the GLBT community, and is not focused on same-sex marriage.

For more on this campaign, see the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  What is the general message behind Google’s “Legalize Love” campaign? How might it be different when directed for international audiences, rather than an American audience?

2.  Will Google’s campaign create major backlash with serious consequences? Why, or why not?

Model for the State: Vladimir Putin’s macho PR efforts November 20, 2010

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Russian Prime-Minister, and former but possibly future president, Vladimir Putin has been staging several macho photo shoots over the last few years. Recently he test drove an F1 race car in front of the news media, but earlier he was seen flipping opponents on a judo mat, riding a horse sans shirt, swimming in the Siberian river, and shooting a gray whale with a crossbow.

Putin’s efforts may seem obvious and even strange to some in the West, but many political pundits recognize his strategy. As one writer for The Guardian noted:

Certainly it is easy to satirise Putin in the UK or America at the moment – when he poses like a hero from Call of Duty 4 or, in a bid to show a softer side, nuzzles up to his horse, he is playing to local tastes that look utterly ludicrous to a more cynical western European and American audience. [However] . . . they would be missing the point that Putin understands; in the rough and tumble of politics you have to act locally long before you start thinking globally.”

To see more of the Putin photographs, see the following link:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/02/putins-commanding-photos-_n_777445.html#s171761

And for more on this story, see the following videos:

Discussion Questions:

1.  Is Putin’s macho PR strategy more PR or propaganda? What’s the difference?

2.  Have similar efforts been taken by public officials in the United States?

Female political candidates in 2010 face, confront sexism October 28, 2010

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Recent research conducted by Democratic pollster Celinda Lake found that sexist attacks by male candidates against their female opponents are amazingly effective. In Lake’s study involving 800 likely voters, support for female candidates criticized with sexist language fell 21 percent compared to the 10 percent drop in support for those ho were criticized merely for their policy positions.

With this bad news what are female candidates to do? Although the conventional wisdom has been to ignore such language in order to avoid appearing whiny, experts are now using the examples of California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman and U.S. congressional candidate Krystal Ball from Virginia to demonstrate that fighting sexism may actually be beneficial.

To see how Meg Whitman confronted her opponent for calling her a “whore” during a private discussion that was accidentally recorded, watch the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  What constitutes a “sexist” attack against a political candidate?

2.  What examples of sexist attacks on political candidates have been widely covered by the news media in the 2010 campaign?

3.  How should female candidates respond to sexist attacks by their opponents? Are there different standards for front-runners and challengers?

Navigating the Outrage: Where should Adam Lambert go from here? November 27, 2009

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Former American Idol star Adam Lambert shocked the country at the American Music Awards recently, with a sexually charged live performance in which he kissed a male member of his act and put his crotch in the face of another. Even though Lambert recognized backstage that he might have offended some people, he refused to apologize. “I admit I did get carried away,” he told CBS’ The Early Show the morning after, “but I don’t see anything wrong with it.”

Lambert has since gone on record accepting blame for the scandal, stating that nobody else knew about his actions beforehand. However, the growing controversy means that he may need to defend himself again, or apologize in the coming days. Not only has ABC received over 1,500 complaints since the performance, but members of the gay community in the United States have been arguing that he did a major disservice to gay people currently struggling for rights and respect.

To see Lambert’s post-show response to the controversy, and why some people were offended, watch the following videos:

Discussion Questions:

1.  Has Adam Lambert been negatively affected by his sexually charged performance? If so, how? If not, how has he helped his career with this controversy?

2.  Was Adam Lambert’s response to the crisis well-considered, or should he have made a more sincere apology for offending some viewers?

3.  What conditions might lead to Adam Lambert making a more complete apology in the coming days?

4.  If you were managing Lambert’s public relations, how might you try to repair his image in the coming weeks?