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Breast in Show

by Jennifer L. Pozner

Published in Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, Isssue 29, Summer 2005

Last year, 40,000 product-pushers celebrated the art of the shill at Advertising Week, a conference described by co-chair Ken Kaess as aiming to "improve the value of advertising and the perception of what we do."

Yet rather than bestowing a rosy glow on the science of corporate propaganda, a series of print ads promoting this year's event - created by Kaess's agency, DDB New York - illustrates the lazy, frat-boy ideology that still permeates the industry.

The intro spot features a faded, grainy, black and white photo made to resemble a historical shot of a crowd of top-hatted, mustachioed European immigrants emerging from a boat onto American soil-carrying portfolios instead of suitcases. The tagline reads, "Coming to New York. Advertising Week."

In a second execution, a handsome young doctor sits proudly at his desk, his diploma positioned conspicuously between the words, "Advertising-we all do it." A third ad locates that same slogan around a "#1 Dad" coffee mug held in front of the torso of a casual-Friday's kind of guy donning tie and khakis. By the time we get to the final spot in the campaign, the magic words, "Advertising, we all do it" are plastered provocatively around a close-up shot of a woman's breasts spilling out of a flirty red bra displayed beneath a tight sexy black bustier whose top few hooks are left carefully unbuttoned. Mind you, this is the sole ad featuring a woman.

The campaign's through line for the "we all do it" ads beckons, "Come listen, come learn, come celebrate," and then plugs the dates of the conference. Yet all Advertising Week's campaign teaches is that men are accomplished professionals, caring fathers, and intrepid voyagers, while women - well, women are nothing more than what advertisers have always reduced them to: a great pair of tits.

Objectifying women's bodies to sell is as old as it is commonplace, but wouldn't the mavens of marketing better benefit if their national advertising conferences celebrated the potential creativity and innovation of their craft rather than tired boob jokes?

Nah, no big deal, Burtch Drake, President and CEO of American Association of Advertising Agencies, told Advertising Age magazine. Besides, he said, the ad "is directed at a very sophisticated audience that is likely to have a different take than the general populace."

Leaving aside the notion that advertisers are more intellectually sophisticated than other mortals, Drake was apparently wrong about the response from an industry audience: a recent editorial in Advertising Age magazine denounced the campaign as "play[ing] right into the stereotypical view of advertising as cheap and sleazy," while 61% of respondents to an AdAge.com poll thought the ad was a "sexist insult" and only 39% thought it was an "appropriate promotion." More than 2,000 responses poured in to the poll, Advertising Age reporter Claire Atkinson tells Bitch, a record for AdAge.com.

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