Ad industry: us, sexist?

Just to show that Granny hasn’t completely given itself over to National’s spin machine, there’s a fine article today about the continued sexist portrayal of women in NZ ads and how it’s perceived by women.

A survey found large majorities of NZ women believed that advertising:

  • portrayed women as “unequal in society”
  • did not use “real women”
  • harmed their ability to be taken seriously in the workplace.

The survey — carried out for a “SheMarketing” group — had a small sample size (N = 400), but the proportions agreeing with these positions are compelling (79%–89%). It shouldn’t come as a surprise that women see the continued portrayal of themselves as subservient, house-bound creatures or sex-objects as career-limiting and unreal.

The response of the ad industry was predictable: “Ads … reflect the society in which they were shown.” “It’s not our job to try and impose standards on society, it’s not our job to try and give impressions of what is not there.”

Same old, same old. We’ll just go on reinforcing patriarchal stereotypes because that’s how society is. Sexist shits.

But, is that the way society is? Has advertising never played to people’s aspirations? Even if society is still like this, why do such stereotypes still work if most of half the population (and a few others of us) find them objectionable?

Perhaps it’s time to start a few campaigns around boycotts of advertising that really sucks.



11 Responses to “Ad industry: us, sexist?”

  1. macdoctor01 Says:

    Ad agencies will tell you that the maxim “sex sells” is 100% true for men. Apparently, for women, this would be “superiority sells” (where the object of desire will make you superior to men or other women). “Stereotypes sell” would also be true and while this is true, adverts won’t be changing anytime soon.

    I’m afraid all the evidence points to boycott campaigns bizarrely increasing sales, so advert companies love it when their adverts generate controversy. About the only thing that seems to make any difference, is quietly getting the BSA to remove the advert (the less fuss, the better).

  2. Stephen Says:

    I would love to see similar questions asked to men – have heard many rumblings about how they are now more often portrayed as bumbling, stupid, fat, henpecked idiots than they used to be.

    Yes, Stephen, there’s alot of truth in that, too.

  3. Julie Says:

    Thanks for writing about this pete, I agree with you and with Stephen above.

    I also agree with mac’s point that a “superiority sells” approach is depressingly effective at selling. And that’s where both men and women are poorly portrayed by advertising.

    As for boycotts, they really need to be robust to be effective. And given that NZ is a pretty small market for most of the multinationals that sell goods (and commission ads) here I’m not sure we really do have any mythical “consumer power” of that variety.

  4. roger nome Says:


    “have heard many rumblings about how they are now more often portrayed as bumbling, stupid, fat, henpecked idiots than they used to be.”

    Yeah, it’s called “new ladism” – Part of the “men are insensitive, sexist slobs, but we love them anyway” attitude that women are “supposed” to have. It also perpetuates sexism.

  5. Inventory2 Says:

    Flippin’ heck JP – you’re right – twice in one day – heck, better go and have a lie-down eh!

    Well said rog – sexism is a two-way street.

  6. Stephen Says:

    The ‘new ladism’ that I was apparently referring to is often combined with smart, confident and attractive women who ‘wear the pants’ too – would be totally unacceptable the other way round, but the first time I saw them I thought ‘well that’s refreshing!’ and didn’t think any more of it. I venture that it will only become an issue if very public cases of lawsuits against women for sexism/harassment start coming up…

  7. roger nome Says:

    “The ‘new ladism’ that I was apparently referring to is often combined with smart, confident and attractive women who ‘wear the pants’ too”

    Yeah – you often see this in the mainsteam cartoons, like “the simpsons” and “family guy”. I think the message is that women should “stand by their men” even if they’re insensitive, sexist louts. IMHO it works more against women than men in terms of social power.

  8. Stephen Says:

    Now that you mention cartoons, it occurs to me that idiot men have been in media since fred flintstone and the Jetsons – more ‘typical’ women in those though.

  9. Inventory2 Says:

    Mrs Inventory always tells people that I wear the pants in the Inventory household – it’s just that she tells me which ones! Mind you, that probably speaks more about her and my respective fashion choices than any underlying sexism!!

  10. Stephen Says:

    Or you accept you have an incredibly poor fashion sense that only She can remedy 😀

  11. Inventory2 Says:

    Stephen – I think that my fashion sense is perfectly fine. However Mrs I sees it differently – often VERY differently!

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