Sunday, 11 November 2012

Asda’s Christmas Ad Controversy: Sexism in Advertising

Asda’s Christmas 2012 ad has caused quite a stir. Instead the of the usual romanticized images of fluffy snow, velvety red cushions and relaxed happy family Saatchi & Saatchi chose a ‘realistic’ portrayal of the festive season. For most mums – and it is still mainly mums – it’s possibly the busiest and most stressful time of year. 

At the time of writing, ASA has received more than 160 complaints regarding this ad on the grounds of sexism. From women’s point of view, it portrays an old-fashioned family dynamic where domestic responsibility falls exclusively on mothers, while men feel that the fathers’ role is ignored or belittled. Notably, there are also plenty of mums who like the ad and happily admit that it is indeed the way the preparations and celebrations happen in their household.

First things first. Asda should be commended for breaking with the tradition of idealized, otherworldly Christmas.  Much as I enjoy the John Lewis ads, it’s refreshing to see a new approach that seeks to appeal to portray and appeal to real people rather than selling dreams (not a million miles off from  Tesco Mobile's 'no nonsense' campaigns which I equally admire.)

That said I sympathize with those who find Asda’s ad offensive. The fact that this role assignment is still prevalent does not mean it is right, and as cultural influencers brands have responsibility to not promote values that our society wishes to move on from. The fact that sexism was rife in 1950s did not make these Mad Men era comms ok.

But if sexism is going to be addressed, it needs to be done indiscriminately. The vast majority of FMCG and grocery brands target mums, and there has not yet been uproar about ‘That's why mums go to Iceland’ or P&G’s ‘proud sponsor of mums.’ What’s more, ASDA is not the first retailer to focus their Christmas campaign on mums – remember the Littlewoods 2011 Christmas ad?
Unless the Asda ad leads to a wider debate about sexism in other brands, the case risks becoming a scapegoat. Perhaps they should have cut the ‘what’s for tea love’ line after all. 

Friday, 9 November 2012

Coca-Cola, Healthy Lifestyles and CSR: Meaningful Initiatives versus Gimmicks

In theory Coca-Cola’s attempts to address the health issues associated with their products is admirable. But their latest venture – the Work It Out Calculator – is not just a marketing gimmick, but a socially dangerous one at that.

The online 'tool' launched in UK gives exercise suggestions to burn off the calories consumed in a Coca-Cola product. For starters, different people need to do different amounts of exercise depending on their weight, therefore rendering the ‘calculations’ useless. But more importantly, Coca-Cola has about as much credibility to teach us about health as GΓΌ or McDonald’s. 

This is not criticism - what these brands provide instead is fun, indulgence and pleasure. There is no need to dilute their attractive taste-based propositions in this apologetic manner. I doubt Coca-Cola’s website is consumers’ first port of call to learn about calories and nutrition!

That said,  Coca-Cola's partnership with StreetGames (a charity that helps make sport accessible to young people) is bang in the money since it promotes a positive attitude to exercise. The difference between the two initiatives is subtle but important. The Work It Out Calculator encourages feelings of deficit and guilt. The mentality of ‘I’ve consumed 73 calories so I need to do 18min on a treadmill’ is most prevalent amongst people with eating disorders.  As a young people’s brand Coke has responsibility to stave off such unhealthy attitudes, not promote them. The StreetGames partnership, on the other hand, not only leverages Coca-Cola’s upbeat and democratic brand but also provides tangible benefits to users and community. 

CSR is to be celebrated, but only when it is meaningful and effective. Coca-Cola can do so much good; it’s a shame to see them waste resources on useless, half-baked initiatives.