It’s no secret that mainstream media and broadcasting agencies have capitalised on the oppression and ostracization of minorities, for decades. With a few perfunctory modifications to their content, of course – keeping in mind the changing socio-political climate and context of reception, worldwide.
Whilst in the past, advertising agencies and media entities used minorities as laugh-machines or antagonists – gay men as caricatures, Muslims as malefactors, Dalits as foils for their Savarna counterparts; growing social consciousness and political awareness in the past few years has led them to change their marketing strategy to resemble rainbow capitalism and extravagant tokenism – erroneous declarations of support for the same oppressed communities whose blood is splattered on the soles of their feet.
Over the years, a number of advertising agencies and multi-billion dollar corporations have carefully targeted women and queer individuals and used them as scapegoats to please deliberately-chosen audiences, whom they knew, would benefit from the marginalization of the aforementioned social groups – primarily men and cis-het individuals.
Here are a few examples of advertisements which exploited misogynistic and queer-phobic sentiments to appeal to the masses.
‘Uh Dad, I’m Gay’ – Flora’s Advertisement For Margarine
In 2013, Flora, a company owned by the Anglo-Dutch corporation Unilever, put forth an advertisement for margarine, which soon became the subject of criticism, for its crude employment of homophobia in order to evoke a humorous response from the viewing audience.
The advert featured a bullet inscribed with the phrase, “Uhh dad, I’m gay” hurtling towards a porcelain heart, whilst the caption at the bottom of the image read “You need a strong heart today.” Clearly, the advert seems to insinuate that an offspring coming out as gay is equivalent to taking a bullet to the heart.
Not only is this advertisement disrespectful, and offensive to members of the LGBTQ+ community whose struggle has been trivialized and compared to a life-threatening situation – but also affirmative of a majority of largely bigoted, parents’ reactions to their children coming out as gay. It’s a subtle message to parents of queer children, “Yes, your harsh reaction to your child trusting you with a significant part of their identity– is completely valid. Why? Because a child’s declaration of their sexual preference is vastly comparable to death and suffering.”
“Say NO to Sex Self-ID. Say YES to common sense.” – Fair Play for Women’s Advertisement for Women’s Safety
A year ago, an advertisement by Fair Play For Women featured in the UK newspaper, Metro. Under the guise of concern for women’s safety and well-being, the advert mercilessly stripped transgender people of their basic right to determine their own identity – in response to the government’s consultation of gender recognition reforms.
The advertisement actively used pathos to evoke responses of fear in its largely cisgender audience, by portraying transgender women as male predators seeking to invade women-only spaces with the sole objective of harassing cisgender females. Blatantly misgendering transgender women, scapegoating transgender individuals and instilling feelings of resentment were some of the techniques used by this advert to dehumanize and vilify transgender women.
In addition, the advert employed a strategically-placed false ultimatum which would lead to feelings of self-doubt and insecurity amongst liberal members of its audience, by use of the phrase, “Say NO to sex self-ID, say YES to common sense,” – hereby, implying that individuals who supports transgender rights – lack common sense.
Not only was this advert vile and offensive, but also toxic and psychologically manipulative.
“Libra Gets Girls” – Libra’s Commercial for Tampons
In 2017, an advertisement by Libra, a New Zealand based tampon company, caught the attention of the masses for its blatant transphobia.
The advert features a transgender woman primping next to a cisgender woman in a bathroom, both of whom wordlessly try to out-do each other, as they slather on lip gloss, mascara and eye-liner whilst smugly eyeing each other through the bathroom mirror. However, the final blow is the tampon the cisgender woman pulls out of her bag – clearly winning the “competition”, as the transgender woman storms out hurriedly. The caption, “Libra Gets Girls” flashes on the screen – the disparaging icing on the trans-exclusionary cake, before the screen goes black.
Evidently, Libra doesn’t acknowledge transgender women as “girls”, in spite of the queer community’s repeated protests to acknowledge non-binary individuals’ right to self-identify. “It’s extremely offensive because it’s pretty much saying the only way you can be a woman is to get your period,” says agender New Zealand president Cherise Witehira.
Moreover, the “competition” between the two women only serves to add fuel to the fire, by perpetuating the damaging stereotype of women competing against each other. A reiteration to the world, that the most fool-proof way of ensuring popularity and high ratings in the field of mass media, is the age old tactic of pitting women against each other.
“Thank you” – Illinois State Representative’s Advertisement Against Gov. Bruce Rauner
Political campaigns are often witness to vicious and grossly exaggerated statements – however, this advert seems to take the cake for its blatant blasphemy and contempt for liberalism. Not surprisingly, the advert was created by Republican state representative, Jeanne Ives – as a response to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s moderate policies.
The advertisement features multiple individuals appear on camera and mockingly thank the governor for the adverse repercussions of his liberal policies. For instance, a deep-voiced transgender women appears on camera and solemnly states, “Thank you for signing legislation that lets me use the girls’ bathroom” – hereby, implying that women’s safety in the bathroom has been compromised due to the presence of transgender women.
The advert successfully attacked a generation of POC, queer individuals and women – by criticizing Rauner for the policies he implemented in support of the aforementioned, oppressed communities.
Needless to say, our political candidates need to get better and do better. There’s no place in this world for leaders who use the systematic oppression of minorities to hoist themselves up to powerful positions.
“A Girl Size Hand Needs a Girl-size Pen” – Parker’s advertisement for its Compact Jotter Ball Pen
My hands are rough and grainy – a reminder of my childhood, which I spent hanging precariously from monkey bars – palms burning, as they repeatedly scraped against the peeling metal. My fingers are short and stubby – much to my distaste.
I grew up thinking that all women are supposed to have soft hands and slender fingers – a symbol of our femininity. It’s scarcely surprising, considering that the myth of women being “the fairer sex” and having “daintier hands” has been existent since the 18th century, or earlier, perhaps.
The above advertisement was created in 1965 – an era during which the first wave of feminism was rippling through much of Europe, but the social status of women still lay smashed into smithereens, at the bottom of a garbage heap that no “good woman” would dare to sift through.
If the fact that Parker decided to produce “girl-size pens” to fit smaller, daintier hands isn’t frustrating enough, what is really infuriating is the idea that the pens excluded transgender women – who, by virtue of having a physical set of characteristics typical of biological males – wouldn’t fall under the rigidly-defined category of “girls”.
There is, perhaps, no way out of this giant trap over all our heads. This trap of capitalism and mass media and multi-million dollar corporations – who entrap us in their pretty little fishing nets until our fluids have dried out. There’s no way out, because advertising agencies will continue to capitalize on the blood, spit and sweat of people who’ve only ever known the taste of the earth. And Sharma ji and Mrs. Dolaria will continue to guffaw when the gay man wearing pink appears on screen, or when the backpack commercial smugly negates the existence of transgender people.
And all I can seem to think about, as I wearily type out this article, is this.
Is this a fight we want to fight?
Haven’t we fought enough?
For our rights, for our respect, for our strength?
Are we ready to fight this fight against capitalism and the cherry-lipped people who spit in our faces?
A fight we know we’ll never win.
But we’ll keep trying anyway, armed with pride flags, futile hope and delusion.
We’ll keep trying. We’ll keep fighting.
In the hopes of a ‘someday’,
Which we’re not sure will ever arrive.