Misogynistic or just brilliant? Michael Weinzettl looks at Agent Provocateur and the recent Tuxedo Confessions ad and discusses the feminist implications of creative advertising.
Image: "Get Noticed" for Tuxedo Confessions
Once a week on our website we present a Print Ad of the Week and Commercial of the Week. Some weeks it's easier to find work that fits all the criteria this creative work has to fulfill than others.
Apart from being relatively recent, the work must above all be arresting enough to be included in the next issue of Lürzer's Archive magazine where, every two months, we feature the most interesting recent advertising and have been doing so for the last 28 years. A few weeks ago, my choice fell on the poster [see above], from an agency in Bratislava, Slovakia (a place not really known as a hotspot of advertising creativity). It advertises a multi-brand online fashion retailer and is certainly very striking. There is not doubt in my mind as to its quality as a piece of advertising. However, the tone of the ad seemed problematic to me.
Now, normally we try not to judge the ads we feature by the degree of political correctness they exhibit. It's not up to us to make moral judgments on the ads - something that has at times been held against us. I remember in particular the uproar in a German trade press journal caused by our publication (Vol. 4/1992) of an ad from a McCann Erickson, Singapore for Doc Martens shoes, which showed a foot shod in Doc Martens standing on the head of another guy.
However, with our Ad of the Week things are a bit different, since they are singled out and not seen in the context of other ads that succeed in advertising - 'cutting through the clutter'.
Okay, so we featured the much-talked about commercial for Agent Provocateur brand lingerie as Spot of the Week half a year ago, but this Stepford-Wife-meets-Lipstick-Lesbians was an example of beautifully executed high camp - and since it didn't have any real message - hard to take seriously.
Having studied literature and film in the late 1970 to mid 80s, I still am very conscious of feminist implications of a creative work (be it a work of art or of pop culture, to which I also count advertising). I remember very well the studies by feminist theorists such as Laura Mulvey on "The Male Gaze" and so I couldn't help worrying about the, to me, rather misogynist overtones of the ad, so stunningly illustrated by Japanese artist Ryohei Hase.
It more or less implies that women become beasts, wolves in this case in order to, according the slogan, "get noticed" by men. Not a sign of female solidarity in sight. So I decided to show the Slovakian ad to the female staff at Lürzer's Archive in Vienna and in London (half a dozen in all, ranging in age between their early 20s to around 40.)
The response I got was astonishing. They all liked the ad. The youngest in this group said that she thought it was "treading a fine line" but the rest had no problem with the ad's message whatsoever. Some of them even went so far as to say the ad depicted women as "strong" which to me poses the interesting question as to whether we've come so far in our society that the feminist reservations, so necessary perhaps 20 or 30 years ago, no longer matter.
Perhaps this group of young women is just representative of what is termed loosely as 'post-feminists', taking everything their elders fought for - and against - for granted in their believe that feminism has succeeded in its goal of ameliorating sexism. I remain skeptical but hope they're right.
Video: "Fleur du Mal" for Agent Provocateur features in Lürzer's Archive Vol. 1/2012
Keywords: Laura Mulvey, The Make Gaze, Ryohei Hase, Agent Provocateur, Doc Marten's, feminism, advertising