Monday, May 21, 2012

Boobs before breakfast

This Saturday started off like any other day. My alarm clock dutifully rang at 9am, half awake I stumbled out of bed grabbing the newspaper, waiting on my coffee. As I opened the front page and scanned through the staggering manner in which my country was depicted in the headlines my eyes were drawn to an ad for a shirt. But dear reader, do not be fooled, this was no ordinary shirt.
So here I am sitting in the capital of a conservative country and even before I have had a sip of my morning coffee what am I confronted with on the front page? A semi-naked woman exposed with her breast to the reader, hands held suggestively between her legs and an exasperated look on her face. Forgive me, but is an invitation for coitus (apologize for this graphic description, but it’s the truth) the best way to sell a shirt? Undoubtedly, the ad men succeeded in their task by grabbing my attention.  Now the obvious question remains, is SEX the only tool of persuasion available to draw interest to a product's merits? Such an approach may be successful with many young men between the ages of 18-35 (their target demographic) but what is the impact of such an advertising campaign on other readers? Ad men continue to use sexual imagery in advertising as a means of persuading the reader to a product's virtues. Marketers continue to use more sex in advertising for a greater range of products.  The range of merchandise that are traditionally associated with sex appeals are usually designer clothing, alcohol and fragrances which appear to be featuring sexual imagery that is increasingly explicit.
So I'm obviously concerned at what thoughts run through a 13-year old boy's mind when affronted with such graphic ads let alone the reactive thoughts of a 50-year old woman. Leaving those questions open as I triage through my daily dose of so-called 'news', what becomes clear is that the production of our newspapers has become highly dependent on funding generated by advertisements of a sexual nature. Of course one could have a fertile discussion about whether this is good or bad for the future of journalism but my question remains: Is it NEWS? And should it have any place in our newspapers?
Marshall Mcluhan once said “All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values". How true. In a country where conversations operate under the maxim 'Though Shalt Not Discuss Sex in Public' (your guess is as good as any, looking our rising population it surely is not increasing because of any other reason) how can it be deemed acceptable to have semi-naked women on the front page of national daily newspaper? In addition, as a reader I feel genuinely cheated as my newspaper was purchased in order to read the read the latest news and keep myself well-informed. Instead, I am given page after page of sexually explicit advertising. I am a grown man, such things can be purchased alternatively through Playboy.
I discussed my concerns with , a marketing expert ( who wants to remain anonymous as he represents on of the biggest marketing companies on the globe ) who explained that "Sex is a taboo theme in India, the more one uses it the more people would like to sneak a peek, more interest in the product/brand. The more shocking it is, people will talk about it more, be interested and share it. That is exactly what makes an ad campaign successful." So what happens to our society? Every day from the time we wake up till we go to bed, we are bombarded with advertisements on a variety of different platforms be it newspapers, TV, radio, street hoardings with ads which are sexual in nature. But our social systems are still very closed to these topics with the vast majority of us never having seen our parents kiss and most of us hesitating to demonstrate even the slightest bit of PDA in front of them.
The media conveys camouflaged messages about what is appropriate in society. This message when examined through the lens of gender suggests men to be proactive, aggressive as compared to women (who are objectified as sexual toys for men). The constant reminder of this ‘Barbie Doll' , ‘He – Man' divide with photoshoped images cannot merely be classified as an innocent pastime as it leads to the cultivation of unrealistic aspirations. (For further proof do watch Killing Us Softly ).
The media no longer finds itself on the periphery of society, today it finds itself in the midst of its own cultural revolution. A constant in our lives, and hence having a major effect on how we act and react to daily life situations. Female sexuality is used to sell products (as men usually control the wealth), be it through music videos, advertisements, songs, movies or newspapers. The constant promotion of men as sexual aggressors on women, as sex objects, leads to the normalization and acceptance of violence as a common practice. And in reality it's not! (For further proof do watch Dreamworlds  )
Now begs the obvious question, is this contradiction the reason for so many sex crimes? Does the constant presence of sexual content in our day to day life lead to the creation of an augmented reality? 
Critics will say, but people are smart, they can choose! I agree, that they can. On the one hand we have the best psychologists advising advertising firms on how best to maximize their exposure (and ad revenue) to their key market demographics for their products. On the other hand, individuals are unaware of these tactics, believing what they see on television, hear on the radio and read in the newspaper. And sadly once these readers become consumers, use a product and come to the realization that it has in fact not changed their lives as promised (tragically AXE deodorant will not make girls jump into bed with you: tried and tested) they will cease using it. But what is the collateral damage of this process? Is it acceptable that people get hurt in the process of selling perfume? 
The owners of these big advertising firms (mostly men let's be honest) only care about the potential generated revenue stream of a product rather than any potential effects of the violent sexual nature of their ad campaigns. As a result of losing money by executing alternative ad campaigns that have failed they have returned to the repetitive ad campaigns we know all too well where 'sex is best'.
Let me end of a final note. Dear Advertiser, you want to sell me a pink Oxford shirt with buttons? Try appealing to me through issues other than sex which interest me such as science, sports, social welfare or society. I am an evolved man who can handle being appealed to on a variety of different platforms rather than just sex. Use your creativity, there are other aspects of life which are as important as sex. Tell me about the thread count used in making my desired pink shirt, the man who made it, which social events I can wear it to (cricket perhaps?) or how many employees this company employs in India. There you go, I've done your job. If I can come up with 4 ideas in 4 minutes I am sure the geniuses working in your offices can do a lot more. I look forward to seeing what you come up with.


  1. Good job sirji...However, as the wife of an 'ad man' I know for a fact that most admen would kill to get a chance to sell things other than skin and sex. This objectification and consequent disrespect of women follows from a deep-seated knowledge in the minds of the big fish that having Katrina eat a mundane fruit seductively is most likely to grab eyeballs and increase recall value of their products. Believe me, it does nothing for most men i know that an actress is stripping for a calender or posing for a cement company!!
    The scary bit, as you have pointed out, is how this ruthless tease in the glamour industry is affecting the lives, agency and volition of other women...

  2. its the case of what came first; the chicken or the egg. Have audiences become more prone to accepting products which are advertised with a sexual tone, or have advertisers just assumed that that is the only way to grab attention?
    The objectification is really sad, and what is sadder is that big names, who can put their foot down, are also succumbing to this.

    Great post!

  3. Your choice of words for the title perform the same functions that the 'big fish' intend for their brands.