September 16, 2011

The Problem with Advertisement

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:56 pm by sacetalks

A local Edmonton business, Fluid Salon, has received tremendous backlash because of an ad depicting domestic violence as glam chic. I’m hoping you’ve all heard of this by now (if you haven’t, you can read Lily’s exceptional open letter to the owner of Fluid Salon, Sarah Cameron). Ultimately, whatever arguments people may give in defense of the campaign, about art and interpretation, freedom of speech, and bringing awareness to the issue of domestic violence…

… this image is an advertisement created to depict a domestic violence scenario to sell hair services!

Any alternative interpretation about where the black eye came from deviates from the cues we’re given in the image (haunting man in background with “I’m sorry” gift). The image was created to sell the Fluid Salon services, not to increase awareness about domestic violence and let people know where they can go for help.

This is what a creative domestic violence campaign looks like:

It is not using domestic violence to sell the World Cup (analogous to using domestic violence to sell a hair style). It is using the World Cup. The World Cup is the tool used to reach as many people as possible about the seriousness of domestic violence and the help that is available for people who are experiencing it. The two ads are very different things, with different intentions.

Using domestic violence to sell hair styling is inappropriate and trivializes the damaging impacts it has on many people’s lives.

There are similarities between the ads, however. They both include white women with dyed blond hair, bringing me to the real point of this article…

There is a problem with a lot of advertisement.

I’m not an expert, but here’s my take on things. The simplest form of advertisement is to associate your product with something else that is desirable. By the powers of association, you’ll want to buy a commodity because it is sitting right beside something else that you really love/want/fancy. For whatever reason, the Fluid ad was associating their product with domestic violence. I’m guessing that in addition to this, they were trying to use a “tongue-in-cheek” advertisement ploy, trying to make their ad either funny or controversial to make people want their services. Unfortunately, they naively thought domestic violence was the way to go.

Let’s broaden our focus for a moment. What else is the Fluid ad associating its services with? What other cues are in the ad that people already love/want/fancy that Fluid can associate itself with?

Rich. White. Blond. Thin. Fashionable. Attractive. Heterosexual.

Very popular attributes to relate one’s product with. I would say the top two things companies plop their commodities beside in advertisement are either the female body (sometimes male body too) or sex or both. But these are not just the “natural” female body and sexuality. They are the presumed attractive female body and sexuality of the elite and privileged: white. thin. heterosexual. Able-bodied. (For men, replace thin with muscular). These markers are used to sell…


Toilet paper.




Advertising standards are different in different countries, so Edmontonians might not be exposed to a back view of a completely naked woman having her butt measured for a scooter seat. Still, we are privy in Canada to a similarly pervasive influx of ads that depict white, thin, presumed heterosexual women in sexual positions or semi-nude for the purposes of selling products that have nothing to do with sexuality or the female form.

Sometimes, an ad will be more noticeably violent…

Or more noticeably about the female body rather than a female person…

Or about female sexual performance…

The basic components are the same. White. Thin. Heterosexual. Able-bodied.

There is a problem in advertisement.

Recently, an Edmonton radio station, 100.3 FM’s “The Bear”, launched a contest for their listeners to “win a wife” from Russia. They’ve moved from using the image of a woman, to using a living person to increase their audience and promote their radio station.

White. Thin. Notice the woman’s face is blurred out? Any argument by the radio station that the contest is concerned with “principles of mutual consent, respect, and freedom of choice for each participant” fails to acknowledge that this is a contest to win a woman without a face; i.e. to possess, own, have, and enjoy a women without an acknowledged identity of her own.

It is directed at male listeners, although female listeners have happily jumped at the chance to win a woman as well, which reminds me that all too frequently privileged women do participate in the oppression of other women.

The prized woman right now does not exist. She is an ideal sold to a radio audience. She is a blurry faced, white, thin woman in a wedding dress, packaged as a present for the lucky winner. She is like any other image of women in advertisement, an object used for the purposes of selling a commodity, in this case, a radio station. She is a prize, something to possess and have for oneself.

Do you think that when people are buying the toilet paper or vacuums as seen in these advertisements, they really are wishing they could buy the women used to sell them?

The faceless bride is not represented as an equal participant because if she were, if this contest was truly about mutual consent, respect, and freedom of choice, then it wouldn’t be about winning. If The Bear was truly concerned with consent, they wouldn’t be using a forum for match-making that too many times involves the illegal and coercive trafficking of women and girls. If The Bear was truly concerned with equality, the contest would be about match-making two very lucky winners, not giving a prize to one.

There is a problem in advertisement.

It is a problem that most advertisements meant to depict “attractive people” usually will involve thin, white, heterosexual, able-bodied people.

It is a problem that violence against women is used to sell men’s clothing and women’s hair styles.

It is a problem that when sex is involved in advertisement, women are typically portrayed as submissive participants who are there to please men.

It is a problem that sex is used to sell basically any available commodity out there, when our own sexualities are too often condemned as taboo subjects for public knowledge.

It is a problem that a radio station thought it was a good idea to have a contest with the catch line, “win a wife,” reinforcing the archaic, and yet very much 21st century, adage that women are property.

What came first, the idea that women are property people can own, or the use of female bodies in advertisement for the purposes of selling commodities people can own?

There is a problem in advertisement. There is more than one problem. How can we change things?

by Meagan Simon

Relevant links:,genderroles,andsexualassault/blog/