15 Shocking Ads That Show How Sexism Has Plagued The Industry Since The ’70s

Posted on May 21, 2014 in Body Image, Sexism And Patriarchy, Society, Specials, Staff Picks, Taboos

By Dhruv Arora:

Sexism and the advertisement industry have had a very long and storied relationship. For long, there has been a belief that the advertisement industry “sells what people will buy”, but the fact is that the way the industry is designed, it is supposed to create demand (not fulfill it). This is the reason why the entire industry draws in billions of dollars each year to create consumer demand based on trends that are created (not followed). The myth that the marketing industry cannot take up responsible advertising is grossly misplaced, and time has shown how consumer behavior and demand has shifted with the trends that have been created through mass advertising. The biggest myth that is oft believed is that sexism drives advertisement and the two cannot be de-linked, that “sex sells”. However, advertisement trends have changed over time and the industry, as a whole, continues to grow. Let’s have a look at some examples of vintage advertisements:

1. DelMonte, in this vintage ad, is surprised that a wife can open the bottle of ketchup without the help of tools, or for that matter, a husband.

2. From 1974, the era of Mad Men, Weyenberg Massagic decided to follow the “trend” at the time, and position women “where they belong” in this ridiculous ad for Playboy magazine.


3. BPA Fun Center ran this ad in Detroit News in the United States where they decided this this really was the best pun they could come up with.


4. Because apparently, women are good for one thing, and one thing only. Oh no, wait, there’s one more.


5. And that would be cooking, apparently. Van Heusen takes a stand for men everywhere, helping them assert the fact that this is a “man’s world”.

6. Believe it or not, the actual offer was to win a trip to Russia, but because apparently the prospect of “owning” a Russian bride who could also double up as a sex-toy and a maid was so much more exciting than an international trip, Stil Vodka decided to runt with this catastrophe.

7. Just when you thought Van Heusen’s last ad featured here was as cringeworthy as it gets, I present to you another gem.

8. It’s nice to have some household objects, such as brooms, chairs, tables, mats, and of course, women. By the way, this gem by Leggs was about men’s slacks. Go figure.

Looking at these advertisements, one would think that we have come a long way from the kind of sexism that was rampant a decade or two ago. However, the following ads really showcase that even though the exact representation might have changed, the sexism still remains:

9. This ad by Ford made waves for all the wrong reasons when it decided to justify violence and male domination, (not-so-)smartly labelling women as problems that Ford will help men leave behind.


10. Dolce&Gabbana decides that the best way to promote its line of clothing would be a direct thumbs-up to the act of physical and sexual assertion.


11. I’ve talked about this before, but Madison Avenue decides to remind us again of the only two things women are apparently good for in this abhorrent ad.


12. Details Magazine couldn’t find a table, so they did the next best thing — got a female model to pose nude as one. What’s more — they hosted a slideshow on their website (which they have since taken down) which contained more such gems. Can you say ridiculous?


13. In case this reminds you of something, don’t be alarmed. Swiffer has, here, decided to reincarnate the classic illustration of Rosie, that has become synonymous with Women’s Rights over the past few years, only in a new role – the housekeeper.


14. American Apparel wants to sell clothes, so it decides to find male and female models to pose for them. Notice any difference between the two?


In the recent times, one would argue that the advertisement trend has changed. The recent Havells ad, this Fastrack ad, Tanishq’s ad about remarriage, and Google’s Reunion ad are some examples of progressive advertising, and even though sometimes highly criticized, one could argue that there is a sense of responsibility that is has been taken with the content of these ads. However, we still have a long, long way to go, in a culture where the Indian Culture is oft falsely interpreted as conservative and anti-homosexual, the censor board decides to ban cleavage on TV, but sexism and overtly sexualized advertisements and item numbers still run amass. Even during the past few years in India, these advertisements are testament to the sexist culture we live in.

15. After a lot of thought, I have decided that I honestly have nothing to say about this gem by FATfree.

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