Since I’m in Germany right now, this item caught my eye. It’s about the National Organization for Women (or NOW) singling out St. Pauli Girl’s new ad campaign as being “offensive to women.” Adrants described the new campaign as follows:
In its new campaign, dubbed “Drop Dead Refreshing,” St. Pauli Girl is playing a little game with us. Front and center in the brewer’s new print campaign is the image of a model Photoshopped to look like beer. As an added twist to the campaign, the model is said to be “renowned and popular” and those who care, can guess the model’s identity on the brewers website. Her identity will be revealed this spring.
St. Pauli Girl’s press release indicated the new ads would begin running this spring and I’m not sure when NOW weighed in with their offense. There are certainly ads at NOW’s website collection of offensive ads which I can understand them finding offensive with and with which I agree with their assessment. BUt I’m not so sire about the St.Pauli Girl ad. Here’s the ad reprinted below along with the caption from NOW’s website.
St. Pauli: A woman presented as a human beer bottle—now that should make you foam at the mouth. Once you’ve finished consuming her, should you just discard her like an empty beer bottle?
Here’s what I don’t understand. What makes NOW think the woman is being portrayed as a beer bottle? If your eyes aren’t enough, the press release makes it pretty clear that she’s not meant to be the bottle. She’s even wearing a dress made of beer, along with her entire body, except for hair which instead is, rather fittingly, the head of the beer. There at least two additional ads which make the case for her being beer rather than a bottle even more ironclad. As a result their analogy of discarding St. Pauli Girl after drinking her falls flat. I don’t think is necessarily the finest beer ad I’ve ever seen and St. Pauli Girl is not an especially wonderful beer, but I don’t see as the most egregious beer ad I’ve seen and it doesn’t rise to anywhere near Miller’s infamous mud wrestling ad.
We know sex sells. Men like it, but so do women. They just respond to its imagery in some starkly different ways. If you want to trigger sexual emotions in men or women you have to employ widely varying techniques to reach each gender. Does using sex in advertising by definition make it bad a priori? It seems to me that our proclivity to respond emotionally to sexual cues is deeply embedded in our nature and advertisers exploit that very human nature precisely because it’s so effective.
Advertisers are not generally speaking the most moral among us. They have a job to do and they do it pretty well but they rarely consider anything beyond their goal. As comedian Bill Hicks was fond of saying. “If you’re in advertising or marketing, please kill yourself. You are Satan’s little helpers and there’s no rationale for what you do. Go on. Kill yourself.” I guess what I always took away from that sentiment is that all advertising is essentially morally questionable because it uses whatever means necessary to achieve a goal and the idea that the ends justified the means was essentially taken for granted as an unquestionable foundation of the industry.
So I think their criticism of this specific ad comes down to the question of whether it’s better or worse than the general state of advertising. It doesn’t seem to me this is even the worst of the many questionable beer ads. First of all NOW seems to have misunderstood the ad by thinking the woman was being depicted as a bottle and then leapt to some self-serving conclusions that don’t really seem to be supported by the evidence. Is a great ad? No, not really. It’s better than some, worse than others. I realize as a man I’m ill-suited to decide what’s offense to women, but I don’t think that means whatever NOW says must be true just because they say so.