Australia: Sexist ad campaigns prompt pepper spray recommendations for Men's Lynx & Brute Codes Print E-mail

THE AGE ~ Melbourne ~ Thursday July 8 2010

Here's a spray of my own: this stuff really is on the nose

'Lads' ads' are ironic, we are told. They are also brutally offensive.

PLEASE, don't adjust your sets - it really is still 2010. But watching TV lately, you could easily be forgiven for thinking you had slipped into a time warp.

For those fortunate enough not to have seen the latest commercial for Brut deodorant, let me paint you the picture.

A woman in a hardly-there, leopard-print bikini is walking down a beach footpath. A guy clocks the oncoming girl and, rather than selfishly ogle her on his own, he gives his mates a nudge so that they can leer at her as a pack. Their approval is clearly evident as they loudly let rip a couple of ''phwoars'' while the camera pans to a shot of her bouncing breasts.

Just when you think it can't get any worse, a barely pubescent boy with a banjo jumps out of a car singing a jingle recommending that if men see an attractive woman on the street they need to "spot and share, because, fellas, it's just what's right". The trio of gawking boys, meanwhile, can hardly contain their vocal enthusiasm as the woman walks past with a shy, but knowing, look.

The message is anything but subtle: women amount to little more than the sum of their breasts and behind, and men have an entitlement - indeed a duty - to ''share them around'' and publicly rate them with their mates.

The ''spot and share'' ad forms part of series presenting the Brut Code - a set of "amusing codes that friends live by", according to parent company Pharmacare.

Other gems of wisdom in the campaign include: ''Never look at another man while eating a banana'' and ''You can drive her car but she can't drive yours'' - each presented in an online video clip in which an attractive girl strips off a T-shirt to reveal a skimpy bikini.

In response to various complaints to the Advertising Standards Bureau, Pharmacare cited a global trend towards ''retrosexual'' culture, loosely defined as the opposite of the ''metrosexual'' tag. Retrosexuals, apparently, are men who embrace their masculinity and yearn to return to a time when ''men were real men'' and women could be given a cheeky pinch on the bum without it turning into a massive legal headache.

According to the Pharmacare and Unilever (responsible for the equally bad Lynx deodorant advertisements) these kinds of ''lads' ads'' are simply using humour and playfulness to sell a product. They claim they only depict women looking "comfortable" and "happy" (read: semi-naked, with coy, moist-lipped smiles). These campaigns manage to walk a fine line, at various times being found to breach the Advertiser Code of Ethics in their portrayal of women, while at other times getting away with questionable content under the defence that they are just being ''ironic'' (the subtext being that objectors are just uptight, joyless wowsers).

But putting aside the contribution that such images make to a view of women as nothing more than a source of entertainment and titillation for men, try as I might I can't find the irony or humour in the tagline - ''still brutally male''. Since when did being a ''real man'' involve violence? And since when was brutality such an aspirational quality that it could be used to entice us into a product choice?

While it would be naive to claim that advertising is solely responsible for shaping our ideologies, such representations do contribute to our collective understanding of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. They reinforce a stereotype of female sexuality in which women's only value and power lies in looking and acting in a very particular way. And they clearly promote a message that ''real men'' know what women are good for - checking out with your mates, getting in to bed, and fetching you a beer afterwards.

But, before you despair, it's not all bad news. Presumably intended to ''go viral'', the Brut Code campaign seems to be a bit of a flop, with only 11 followers on Twitter. Hardly a good return on what must be a hugely expensive exercise covering outdoor advertising, prime-time TV placement and social networking technologies.

Can I suggest then that there might actually be a more fitting use for all those unwanted cans of lads' deodorant out there? Perhaps women should start keeping some of it in their handbags.

That way, the next time some bloke feels the need to comment publicly on her appearance, she can give him an ''ironic'' blast of manly fragrance.

Sarah McKenzie is a freelance writer