Claire Beale on Advertising: Cars for boys, chocolate for girls

Sunday 23 October 2011 08:28

It was a bad week for being a man last week. The scientists said you're stumbling towards extinction, having mislaid 1,355 genes from your chromosomes; only 45 left apparently. And then the advertisers said that, really, you're entirely too stupid to use ordinary household cleaning products.

Which is why the man in the current Oven Pride ad looks so ecstatic, shaking his rack in the special Oven Pride cleaning bag with all the enthusiasm of an uncle dancing the Agadoo. Finally: an oven cleaner "so easy, even a man can do it". His cheeriness is to be particularly commended because he's married to a miserable harridan with a face like a bulldog licking lemon off a thistle.

Some 673 people aren't quite so happy about Oven Pride, though. They've complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that the ad is sexist and demeaning. The ASA doesn't agree. It reckons that the ad is "unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence" and consequently has refused to ban the commercial.

Cue serious and widespread media comment on the outcome. "Why do advertisers make men look stupid?", "Equality? You must be joking", "Men are both clever AND capable? You must be Oven a laugh".

Sexism in advertising is an easy media target. It makes good copy, eye-catching headlines and a nice little platform from which commentators can air their hackneyed views on political correctness gone mad and complaining that white middle-class males are now the only acceptable butt left for our jokes.

Except that if you read the ASA's report you find that some of the Oven Pride complaints are about the ad offending and demeaning women by suggesting that cleaning is really women's work.

So, you see, the ASA hasn't overthrown complaints of sexism against men, it has overthrown complaints of sexism against both genders. Calm down everyone. The real point about the Oven Pride ad is that it peddles the bloated stereotype of the under-the-thumb hapless man and the ogre-like nagging wife but that the stereotypes aren't properly offensive (to most of us) because we understand that they're caricatures.

Caricatures are the cornerstones of ads because ads have to say an awful lot in a very short space of time; stereotypes – gender-based ones, class-based ones, age-based ones – are extremely useful at telling a story quickly. And perverting stereotypes is an extremely useful way of telling a funny story quickly.

So men drive the fast cars in ads and women eat the chocolate (unless it's a Yorkie because Yorkies are "not for girls"). And if men are in the kitchen they're generally on foreign soil and if women are in ads for aftershave it is generally because they just can't keep their hands off men who smell nice.

If all this sounds like the ad industry is still rooted in a sexist world that the rest of us have left behind, then remember that not that long ago there was a standard adland shorthand for an entire genre of advertising known as two Cs in a K (the long hand of which translates as two c**ts in a kitchen). Ad after ad after ad followed the formula because everyone understood it and it was extremely effective. We bought what the Cs in the K sold.

But ad fashions have changed in keeping with the real world that advertising reflects.

According to Oven Pride, which claims its ad has been extremely successful in increasing sales (despite the ads being creatively execrable), we're now buying what the hapless M in the K is selling; we understand the formula, it works.

And don't forget that though they've now been thrust into the kitchen, the men do still get to drive all those fast cars down empty coastal roads.

Best in show: Virgin Trains (Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy)

Virgin Trains has a cheeky, cheesy new TV ad out and it's a delight.

It's by Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy and, aw, it's about a loved-up girl off (by train) to see her fella.

Sap is rising all around as the entire world is shown to be conspiring to get her into the mood. Then when we see a champagne bottle popping its cork and gushing its content, well, we understand.

Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy also get top marks for the great 80s soundtrack, "Look of Love" by ABC.

There's a lovely twist at the end, too, when we see Sir Richard Charles Nicholas Branson himself, almost getting together with the American lingerie model Caprice.

Very silly, sexy, very Virgin.

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