Every year on International Women’s Day, the Women’s International Zionist Organization releases its "Badge of Shame for the Most Sexist Advertisers," a listing of the five most offensive ads to women that appeared in the preceding year. This year’s list in February included such iconic Israeli brands as Castro Clothing and Elite’s Turkish Coffee.
“Their advertisements follow an offensive, old-school approach to advertising, which claims that a woman’s body is a tool that can be used to push products and a means to satisfy men,” the judges said, explaining their choice of one particular product on the list [Carolina Lemke eyewear].
As for the brands themselves, they are hardly upset by these kinds of critiques in the media outlets and social networks.
Recently, the Internet was up in arms over a commercial for Goldstar, a popular local beer with a long history of commercials that malign and ridicule women. The latest example features three women who enter a pub, only to find that there are exactly three seats left. The problem is that one of the seats is at the corner of the bar, and an old superstition says that any woman who sits in the corner seat will not get married for seven years. This leads into a violent grotesque race between the women so as not to get stuck with that unlucky seat. At the end, a man sits down rather nonchalantly in the same corner stool and orders a drink. The slogan used by Goldstar for the past 15 years is, “Be thankful you’re a man, and have yourself a drink.”
Women were furious, as were quite a few men. Na’amat, the Organization of Working and Volunteer Women, went so far as to announce a boycott of all products produced by Tempo, the drink company that manufactures the beer. “Goldstar doesn’t want me? Well, I don’t want Tempo,” Na’amat posted on its Facebook page.
Rogel Alper, TV critic for the Israeli daily Haaretz, devoted his entire column to the ad. “Our national beer,” he wrote, “represents medieval values.” Nevertheless, it's important to note that an earlier list of “Badge of Shame” advertisers included the website of his own employer. The commercial in question featured a couple having sex, with the man complaining that the woman’s performance was “old-fashioned.” In that case, the analogy was to other, less innovative news sites.
And Goldstar is hardly alone. A new ad for another drink, orange-flavored Tapuzina, also came under harsh criticism. That brand has a long tradition of objectifying women, with some of its earlier ads including women in wet T-shirts.
The Israeli Internet service HaBoreret, which offers users an opportunity to select the most favorable communications package for them, got caught up in the storm as well last month. It started a Facebook campaign featuring a video clip of a woman complaining during intimate relations, “Everyone is trying to shove their package at me.” She is supposedly referring to Internet bundles, but the innuendo is obvious. The clip ends with her announcing, “They are trying to set us up, but I am finished [with that]!” The site’s Facebook page filled up quickly with complaints. Irate surfer Nina Zoukelman wrote, “Am I to understand that you don’t want women as clients? Great! I will never visit your site, and I’ll tell all my friends to do the same.”
Website CEO Asaf Levi was also hectored on his personal Facebook page, when he shared the clip under the heading, “Is this the most sexist ad Israel has ever seen?” He told Al-Monitor, “Personally, I paid a steep price for that. I hurt people, who are important to me. But there are often considerations that clash with your personal values. They don’t always fit together well.”
What he says is interesting, especially since his many other postings to Facebook leave the impression that he tends to hold liberal and egalitarian positions.
The Goldstar commercial was produced by the McCann advertising agency of Tel Aviv, a company that takes pride in its egalitarian approach and whose staff includes many women in senior management positions. “The person behind the ad was actually a woman,” said Hannah Rado, the firm’s deputy CEO.
Rado thinks that the reaction has been disproportionate. “The Goldstar ad is funny. It exaggerates a social observation,” she said. “What isn’t funny is that only six of the top 100 corporations in Tel Aviv have a female CEO. Yet no one says a word about that. The whole thing is being blown completely out of proportion. When Na’amat protested El Al’s instructions that female flight attendants wear high heels during boarding, I thought they were a million percent right. The current protest is ineffective because it doesn’t focus on the main issue. What they should be demanding is that 50% of the directors of major companies be women. Some 45% of medical specialists are women, but only a minuscule number of hospital directors are women. No one is protesting that.”
It seems that protests on social networks haven’t really changed a thing, at least until now.
“It is impossible to put together some empirical law about it,” Levi said, “but the campaign has put us in a whole new place just one month after it was launched, in terms of the exposure that the brand is receiving and the ensuing dialogue about it. The bottom line is that the ad had a major impact. We may have lost some customers, but we took that into consideration from the very beginning. As far as we are concerned, the profit exceeded any losses. We were able to expose a firm in its infancy to hundreds of thousands of people. We saw traffic to the site increase 400%.”
In Israel, consumption of beer per person a year amounts to some 14 liters (3.7 gallons). And so, the overall market a year is 110 million liters (29 million gallons). For many years now, Goldstar enjoys 20-30% of the market — selling about 30 million liters (8 million gallons) a year.
Goldstar sources who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity said that according to their data, the commercials don't affect their market percentage. The loud protests against Goldstar and Tempo, they say, do not damage sales.
“It is obvious that all this commotion actually serves the brands,” said Shira Dvir-Gvirsman, a faculty member of Tel Aviv University’s department of communications. “Even if everybody joins the protest, it still serves the advertiser’s purpose. Having everyone protest is actually more effective for them. I am pessimistic about this protest's capacity to impact overall policy. Think back to the cottage cheese protest [which triggered the 2011 social justice protests]. It had no impact on the cost of living. Social networks have made it easier to protest, but they haven’t changed the balance of social powers.''
It looks as if the social protests of 2011 proved to advertisers and their clients that Israeli consumers know how to make a lot of noise, but that in many cases, these noises don't lead to a tangible change. That is why advertisers are quick to use chauvinism and sexism in their advertising campaigns. The provocative outcomes result in vigorous dialogue.
While groups such as Na’amat want businesses such as Goldstar or HaBoreret to pay a steep price that would exceed the advantages of their sexist campaigns, the facts prove otherwise. As things stand now, the benefits far outweigh the damage.
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