Sex sells. Anyone in advertising knows that, as does most of the general public based on their purchasing patterns. Using attractive women and men, often in sexually suggestive scenarios, has been commonplace in print and digital media since, basically, the inception of each. Humans are sexual beings, and companies are simply tapping into that most primal of urges to promote their wares. It’s nothing new.
What is new, however, and quite distressing, is the recent seeping of rape culture into the marketing sphere. You read that right – using rapey references to sell products.
Earlier this year, Budweiser – a subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch InBev – came under fire for its #UpForWhatever advertising campaign. A promotional slogan, “The perfect beer for removing ‘No’ from your vocabulary for the night,” was featured prominently on bottles of the company’s Bud Light beer. No red flags were raised in the marketing department at Anheuser-Busch by a statement that could hardly be construed to mean anything other than “use our beer to get her/him to say yes?” The public relations people were okay with this “get her drunk so she’ll go along with anything” branding? The legal eagles at this Fortune 500 company saw no liability issues whatsoever at a time when stories of people using alcohol to render young women and men unconscious for the purpose of sexually assaulting them are in the news on, sadly, a pretty regular basis? Apparently not.
But when the newly-branded bottles hit the shelves, it didn’t take long for a public that routinely accepts sex in advertising to soundly reject rape in advertising.
Widely criticized on social media for perpetuating rape culture, called out by New York congresswoman Nita Lowey for its “epic lack of understanding” of the public health and safety issues surrounding alcohol and assault, Budweiser issued a public apology and stopped producing bottles with the, shall we say, unfortunate slogan.
More recently, Bloomingdale’s department store produced a print holiday catalog ad for Rebecca Minkoff, a women’s clothing and accessories line, in which a man is seen staring at a woman who is looking in the opposite direction, while the caption reads, “Spike Your Best Friend’s Egg Nog When They’re Not Looking.”
Yeah. That’s commonly referred to as roofie-ing someone’s drink, and it’s illegal. Additionally, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, drug rape is one of the most common sexual assault crimes today. As in the case of the Budweiser blunder, no one in the marketing, public relations, or legal departments of this iconic store saw any problem with this ad before it went to print.
Again, however, the consuming public did. The Twitter backlash against Bloomingdale’s “rapey,” “garbage” ad was swift and merciless, prompting the store to issue the following statement this week:
“In reflection of recent feedback, the copy we used in our recent catalog was inappropriate and in poor taste. Bloomingdale’s sincerely apologizes for this error in judgement.”
That’s great, Bloomie’s. Thanks for your apology. And we appreciate the one from Budweiser as well. But what we’d appreciate even more is some recognition in your corporate offices that rape isn’t sex. It’s criminal, it’s assault, and it’s devastating – and we’re not buying it.