We take a look at recent ads that may fall foul of the regulator’s proposals to combat sexism
Remember that ad about Fairy liquid being the secret to mum’s soft hands? Or the Oxo housewife extolling the “man appeal” of its stock cubes? It’s no surprise that plenty of vintage campaigns would find themselves on the wrong side of the ASA’s planned new rules on sexism. But there are plenty of more recent campaigns that would also fall foul of proposals to ban “problematic” gender stereotyping and promotion of a negative body image. We take a look at the top ads that escaped the regulator’s wrath, but may not be so lucky in future.
1. Oven Pride: ‘So easy a man could do it’ (2009)
This controversial campaign prompted more than 600 complaints to the ASA for promoting an oven cleaner that was compatible with the male brain. “So easy a man could do it!” trills the narrator, with a hysterical laugh that could only indicate exposure to excess oven cleaning fumes.
In this dystopian world view, we see a couple presumably held together only by their mutual hatred of oven cleaning, and each other. The narrator gently guides the beleaguered man through the alien process while he too falls victim to the aromatic oven cleaning fumes, and breaks out into a proud, vacant, smile. At the end, there is a distinct look of panic as he realises the fumes have overcome him and he will fall into a toxic coma. Still, at least the oven is clean.
2. WKD: ‘Cleaning’ (2012)
There is nothing that screams ‘man’ more than a bright blue alcopop. And nothing that screams ‘woman’ more than cleaning, according to the advertising team at WKD. In a scene reminiscent of the Father Ted/Mrs Doyle dynamic, this dumpy couch-dweller dares ask his partner if she “needs some help” cleaning off the leftovers of his TV dinner – presumably the product of her resentful blood, sweat and tears in the kitchen. Sensing the affirmative, he does what all male role models do in times of need: calls for his mum.
“Ma! Ma!” he screams. “When you’re finished out there, Maxine needs a hand in the kitchen.” Pass that guy a bottle of Oven Pride.
3. Asda: ‘Mum is behind it’ (2012)
A sexist ad or a tribute to all the hard-working mums getting ready for the festive season? Asda’s execution was clearly meant to be the latter, and was admittedly far less offensive than these first two examples. Yet the undertones of the classic ‘useless dad’ and ‘skivvy mum’ stereotypes clearly got the public’s goat, and racked up more than 600 complaints to the ASA.
It may have been well-meaning, but there are clear moments where Asda may look back and cringe. ‘Useless dad’ says yes to an unsuitable Christmas tree; ‘skivvy mum’ puts him right. ‘Useless dad’ fades into the background as ‘skivvy mum’ prepares the food, looks after the baby, wraps the presents and mounts the decorations. Finally, just when ‘skivvy mum’ can put her feet up, she gets a dud seat at the Christmas dinner table that means she can barely reach to eat. ‘Useless dad’ looks down at her adoringly while uselessly eating the Christmas lunch he has uselessly been unable to prepare himself. And capping it all off by asking: “What’s for tea, love?” Hands up who wants to punch ‘useless dad’ in the face?
Ah, what better way than engage the youth of today than show you’re just one of them? So McVities must have thought when it partnered with Buzzfeed to make its brand part of a “girls’ night in”, complete with selfies and uploads.
The down-with-the-kids vibe may just have worked, if the ad hadn’t reduced the entire female sex to a blur of squeals and inanity. They see each other. They squeal. They see a kitten. They squeal. They put on music. They squeal and dance. You get the picture. One inanely talks about Darren being “the one” while another inexplicably relates a story about her “stunning” friend suffering a car breakdown. If female friends were really like this, euthanasia would take on a sudden appeal.
5. Protein World: ‘Are you beach body ready?’ (2015)
“Reckon you could look as good as me in a bikini, eh? Eh? Do you, eh?” Is what we all imagined the impossibly slim, perfect model for Protein World was saying to us in this controversial poster ad. In reality, her seemingly confrontational pose was probably the result of spending hours posing in a bikini in freezing conditions.
But that didn’t stop us being angry. The company’s provocative message – ‘Are you beach body ready?’ – seemed to suggest that the rest of us non-slim, non-pouting girls were not suitable for the beach. Unless we bought the powder-posing-as-food that Protein World was peddling, that is.
The ad prompted an online petition, protests in New York and nearly 400 complaints to the ASA, which at the time found no reason for a ban (although it may think differently under new proposals to tackle negative body image). Still it got Protein World more publicity than it could possibly have imagined.