This article was published in the Irish Examiner on the 15th September 2011.
Over the past week I’ve been told that I’ve no sense of humour, that I take things too seriously, that I have no imagination, and that I don’t know what fun is. None of these things are actually true about me but yet friends and strangers alike have still said them. Why? Because, drum roll please, I don’t like the Hunky Dory ads. In fact I dislike them so much I complained to the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI) about them.
If you’re of the school of thought that thinks the ads are just a bit of harmless fun, I couldn’t disagree with you more. In any definition of fun I’ve seen, models dressed and posing provocatively in minimal sports gear trying to promote a brand of crisps has never appeared. I also don’t think the ads are harmless and if you do maybe you’re not living in the same Ireland that I am.
Before we go any further, let us dispense with the white elephant in the room, what I like to call the ‘Diet Coke Defence’. It goes a little something like this: “What about the Diet Coke ad, you were all drooling over him so it’s a bit rich to be complaining about the *insert company name here* ad.” The now infamous Diet Coke ad aired in the mid 90’s – well over a decade ago, and the only other similar ad since then has been the Aero Bubbles ad. By my count that makes 2 high profile ads in 15 years where men have been made into sex objects. In the last year alone in the Irish market there have been 2 Hunky Dory ads and the Club Orange ad. That’s 3 high profile ads featuring women as sex objects in a year versus 2 featuring men in 15 years. And that is why I don’t buy into the ‘Diet Coke Defence’. The frequency of men as sex objects is practically nonexistent compared to the prevalence of ads featuring women in the same role. In fact last week, Largo Foods was not the only Irish company dabbling in sexist advertising.
With all the fuss about Hunky Dorys, TramCo nightclub in Rathmines, Dublin flew under the radar with its ‘Knickers for Liquor’ night. The promotion run by Midnight Promotions meant that customers could give the DJ their underwear and in return receive a free drink. This in spite of the fact that a 15 year old girl was allegedly sexually assaulted on the premises during the summer. The mind boggles that someone somewhere thought this was a good idea. Or that it was funny or harmless.
Most of us like to believe that we’re not influenced by ads. That we can tune them out, switch channel and not pay attention to the hundreds of ads that bombard us on a daily basis. Nice and all as this idea might be, we are all influenced by the messages in ads – we just don’t know it. Rance Cairn, President and Editor-in-Chief of Advertising Age says that “only 8% of an ad’s message is received by the conscious mind. The rest is worked and reworked in the deep recesses of the brain.”
So what message do these ads send? You’re only valuable if you look hot in a pair of short shorts? You’re only valuable if you get your tits out so we can all have a gawk? Real sportswomen aren’t important, but the models dressed up to look like they play sports are?
This is why the Hunky Dory ads are dangerous. Not only are these messages destructive left in the subconscious of women and girls but they also do a massive disservice to the women who play Rugby and GAA. ‘Proud sponsors of Gaelic Football’ my arse. Women’s sport in this country gets very little coverage in any form of media. Go ahead and prove my point by asking 5 people in your office who won the All Ireland Camogie Final last weekend. If one person knows I’ll be shocked. (By the way, Wexford beat Galway to claim the trophy). And this is really the crux of the issue – context is everything.
If this ad appeared in isolation, maybe I could laugh it off. But it doesn’t. It appears in a flood of other ads devaluing women in a society where women’s representation in the Dáil is abysmal (a mere 15%), where women STILL get paid less than men (up to 18% less for the same work), where 81,000 turn out for the Men’s All Ireland Final but only 15,000 turn out for the Women’s and where over 200,000 people, predominantly women, are affected by eating disorders.
In running the ad again albeit with different balls, Largo Foods has given the middle finger to the ASAI and to women across Ireland. So now it is up to all of us incensed by the ads to complain to the ASAI. This can be done in a matter of minutes on their website (www.asai.ie). The real challenge though will be for the ASAI to address this serious breach of the advertising code and their own authority so that Largo Foods – and other companies – are deterred from going down this route in future. If they fail, serious questions will have to be asked about the role and purpose of the ASAI.
By Linda Kelly