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.
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.