Don’t just turn up. Bechdel.

Holden’s new spot for the Acadia (car namers, please try harder) is a little bit of fun, which, if you’ve ever worked on auto campaigns, you’ll know is a fair feat. The line “Don’t just turn up. Arrive.” is meaningless yet cute, and I’m sure it got a round of collective gaffaws in the creative presentation. The execution itself is memorable and entertaining, showcasing a series of everyday blokes turning up to everyday places with serious swagger in their stride, all thanks to the confidence and satisfaction borne from their ride in their Acadia. The problem is, in every single scene of this entertaining ad, women and girls are reduced to roles in the background or as beautiful trophies whose orbits revolve around the gravitational pull of the male protagonists in the story.

Holden Acadia 30″ TVC

The spot’s hero is a podgy young white boy, who we see bopping his head in the foreground of the car while his sisters appear in the distance, silent human props who exist solely to show off all the car’s seats. (But to be fair, they probably chose to sit in the back seat because of their brother’s shameless man-spreading across the seats in the row in front of them.) They later walk through a water park, a posse of devoted followers, mum and dad included, hypnotised by the boy’s sheer alpha magnetism. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see how life pans out for this kid, but I’d put money on his future as a member of the r/Incel sub-Reddit.

The next scene showcases the supposed pulling power of the Acadia. In a classic demonstration of “punching above your weight”, a nerdy young kid and his Wolfpack exit their Acadia at the entrance of their formal venue. Beautiful and sexualised young teenage girls exit shortly thereafter, linking arms with their nerd beaus, beginning their pre-destined journey to trophy-wifedom depressingly young.

Then, in taking metaphors to a new level, we watch as a dog walker swaggers through a dog park with a handful of leashed bitches before him. I’m sure this slip was purely Freudian, but there’s no doubting the perfect symbolism of this scene for the generally problematic representations of women in this spot, which shamelessly owns an overall vibe of brassy, dick-dangling swagger. The music track, too, does nothing to negate the undercurrent of misogyny in this ad. The “Arrive” tagline, combined with a male vocalist laying down choice lyrics about letting the “champagne pop”, makes the whole exercise comes across (pun intended) as a thinly-veiled metaphor about male ejaculation. Insert eye-roll emoji: we geddit.

Not a single woman exists in the Acadia universe with a narrative independent to that of a man. Strangely, this depiction of a male-centric universe is strategically at odds with the sales objectives for the vehicle itself: given it is a 7-seater, this is the kind of car built specially for and purchased by mums of three kids or more, so she can to taxi her kids about on the daily school run (before speeding off to work). The strategy and creative execution are completely tone deaf in consideration to this audience, as though women were completely absent in the extensive processes that preceded the production of this ad. All we’re left with is an entertaining yet empty thirty seconds of advertising that runs foul of the Bechdel test, and lacks a compelling reason to connect to and desire the car that it is trying so hard to sell.

Having worked on three global car brands in my time, I’m deeply familiar with the category, and have experienced the joys and challenges of auto advertising first-hand. Sympathies aside, Acadia’s problematic or otherwise absentee representation of its target audience matters. It would have been so easy, for example, to switch out one of the hero male talent in any of the scenarios with a hero woman instead. Authentically representing their main target audience and giving women’s stories equal weight to those of men isn’t simply strategically sound, it’s also Important, in the grand sense of the term. Holden is an iconic Australian brand, and how it portrays women has cultural impact beyond the screen. Objectification of women and entrenched stereotypes about gender roles and norms lead to gender inequality. Holden should be a part of changing the conversation. If you believe that women and men should have equal rights and opportunities – and you should – then ensuring gender equal representation in your advertising is one (very effective and very salient) way brands, agencies and production companies can mirror the kind of gender equal society they want to see in the world.

We Need to Talk About UltraTune.

So far on this blog, I have purposely avoided giving too much oxygen to any over-the-top or blatantly sexist campaigns.

No sport in easy pickings, eh? But, alas, my eyes can only roll so many times before I wind up permanently disfigured, so I’ve made the call. The Bechdel bell tolls for all of us eventually, UltraTune. And today it tolls for thee.

If you’re at all familiar with their particular oeuvre of advertising, you’ll be well aware that the UltraTune brand platform is built on misogyny and sexism. Way harsh, Tai? Well, let’s consider Exhibit A: here’s their “brand ambassadors” the Rubber Girls (seriously), pictured here just hanging with convicted rapist and wife beater, Mike Tyson:

Here is Mike Tyson practising his version of the Steve Erkel “I didn’t do it!” shrug.

The premise of all the UltraTune spots is, in every way, simple: dumb busty babes get themselves into an unfortunate situation, and UltraTune somehow saves the day. I use the word dumb without a shred of victim-blaming guilt, because the Rubber Girls are purposely portrayed as witless and mute morons who are too incompetent to be behind the wheel, perpetuating a problematic stereotype that reinforces gender inequality.

The girls also barely speak, aren’t named, and are often filmed in slow-mo as their chests are hosed down with water, or whatever else they can be demeaned with.

What I struggle with is the disconnect between UltraTune’s strategy here and its primary target audience. For an ad so clearly aimed at men, its incomprehensible when you learn that their main target market is women. Does marketing misogyny to middle-aged women work?

We’ve all become so dulled by stereotypes that most people don’t find them offensive anymore. I suppose my argument is that brands have a duty to represent the best in us, to use their power to shift perceptions responsibly, and change the gender narrative for the better. If only equality was as profitable as exploitation, UltraTune might reconsider their negative cultural impact and change their marketing strategy. Until profits drop – or until the Rubber Girls’ tits do – we’re likely to keep seeing them on our screens for a while yet.

Welcome Bechdel.

The latest Apple Homepod spot, Welcome Home, is another spectacular piece of creativity and original direction by Spike Jonze.

The 4-minute film is made, ostensibly, to convince you that your home life can be improved with the all-knowing powers of Siri. But it conveys Siri’s AI usefulness in a beautifully human way, and without resorting to stereotypical tropes to tell their story:

Aw, Siri knows *just* the right song to play you when you’re down in the dumps! The premise could have ended up quite corny and inauthentic in a lesser directors hands. However, the visual treatment transforms this idea from banal to brilliant.

As our heroine listens to Siri’s choice of song (something “she likes”), her mood and her mind are transformed. We see a literal expansion of her home to convey a figurative opening of her mind, thanks to the song. She dances, not as a sex object, not as an object for consumption or voyeuristic desire, but as a way of transforming and expressing her interior world. Our heroine even dances with her mirror image, not falling back on the trope of a male saviour to make her feel good again, but rather being a sister who is doing it for herself.

With the complete absence of male talent, this spot isn’t an obvious candidate for Bechdel testing. (Though Siri and our heroine do speak to each other, and not about a man, so that’s a tick! on its own.) The reason why this spot has been critiqued as a Bechdel-approved narrative, is for its very singular and unabashed focus on a fully-realised young woman to sell a multi-billion dollar company’s talking computer.

That’s a feminist ad premise, if ever I saw one.

Don’t let Bechdel pass you by.

It’s kinda unfair of me to pick on this billboard, because it’s likely in-house dealer-led creative, and therefore was always destined to be crap. But it’s right near my house, and it makes me involuntarily shake my fist at it every time I pass it, so: pick on it I shall!

We see a gorgeous woman crossing the road from the perspective of a driver’s window. “Woman” might be a stretch: with her gingham school-girl style dress and coy gaze, she looks barely legal. And in conjunction with the headline here, I’m guessing “barely legal” might have been the USP.

As if the objectified school-girl wasn’t obvious enough, the Audi marketing team added a double-entendre-headline cherry on top: “Don’t let it pass you by”.

Prey tell, don’t let *what* pass us by? A piece of skirt the chance to have a peaceful walk to school? The opportunity to try out your full suite of cat-calls? The once-in-a-lifetime moment for this girl to get some of your sweet sweet D?

Objectification of women in advertising is hardly new. But this billboard isn’t just in the line of sight of its pervy, sad target market; real school kids pass by this billboard on their way to school. What else could they take away from this billboard other than “Driving an Audi will get me nameless, compliant, objectifiable babes”?

The only person that would think this ad presented a persuasive reason to buy an Audi is a middle-aged male marketing manager with probable stamina issues, childhood emasculation trauma, and likely ownership of an un-ironic MAGA cap.

This billboard doesn’t just fail the Campaign Bechdel test, it fails the global Audi brand, and the advertising industry over all. Now I’ve got that off my chest, I’m off to spray paint a flaccid penis on this thing. Bye!

Nothing Beats a Bechdel

And we’re back, after a long summer hiatus! Thankfully, we’ve got a cracker to kick us off from Nike: Nothing Beats a Londoner.

Whoah. W&K London and RiffRaff films newly launched spot is a beautifully crafted, passionate, energetic and fresh 3” celebration of athletic one-upmanship, and it is glorious.

But it’s not just the men doing the one-upping: fierce, fiery women get their equal share of the story. Diversity fills every frame, both in terms of ethnicity and gender, and the featured female talent (of which we’re looking at a good 40-60 split) never have to kowtow their stories to those of men. Individual Londoners compare the challenges impeding their search for greatness, with increasing visual hyperbole. A rich white boy bemoans the trappings of his privilege (family yelling “FAILURE!” at you while you row will probably do that); a skilled soccer player replies by telling us how she has to pull off amazing tricks just to get one view on YouTube; a gymnast raises the stakes, shouting that missing her landing will lead to a broken leg; and a self-conscious rugby player cries a literal fountain of tears.

Both genders are shown to have real depth: we get unselfconscious emotion, universal vulnerabilities and bottomless determination. Nobody’s success is dependent on their gender, or propped up by another gender’s marginalisation – the entire premise suggests that the power to succeed lies with each individual. You’ve just gotta overcome whatever obstacles London throws in your way.

Ah, Nike. Just doing it. Brilliantly.