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Sexism in Advertising: Brands and their Obsession with Gender Discrimination

With the advent of technology and social media, awareness regarding various social issues such as sexism and gender discrimination has been on the rise. People have been educating themselves and their peers by means of the internet. However, it seems as if majority of the brands across the world have rather been lazy and unwilling to learn more on these areas of concern. Marketers have reached new lows by employing various advertising techniques where they tend to cast or portray women as secondary. This misrepresentation is especially surprising, considering the way the world has progressed into the 21st century, and women are excelling and taking the lead in almost all spheres of life. To understand how sexism prevails in the marketing industry, I would like to break down a few adverts in particular, starting with one advertisement from the famous German car manufacturer, Audi.


In 2017, Audi released a new marketing campaign in China, where the brand somehow decided that it was wise to compare finding the right woman for marriage to finding the best car. The entire advertisement created by the brand is focused on the idea that women are equivalent to being someone’s property, and that men have the right to ‘buy’ women, just as they buy their vehicles. The ad also grossly reinforces the narrative that women and their entire personality should only revolve around their physical appearance or the way they look. There is evident objectification of women throughout the video advertisement, and it is demeaning to learn that brands such as Audi do not adhere to equal and just representation of both men and women. The ad makes me wonder if there was any female team member working on the commercial itself; perhaps that would have resulted in better depiction of the roles women play on a daily basis.


Second on the list of adverts that have caused great harm by being tone deaf is the one produced and issued by Nando’s India. The ad read: “We don’t mind if you touch our buns, or breasts, or even our thighs. Whatever you’re into, enjoying any Nando’s meal with your hands is always recommended.” The way this advert is worded is extremely concerning and alarming, considering that this was released in a country like India which is among the top in the list for rape statistics. The advertisement itself contributes to everyday rape culture, and also normalizes not taking consent by drawing an analogy between women and chicken. This kind of analogy where you equate female anatomy with something edible is a really low blow, and brands like Nando’s should reconsider their marketing moves altogether after this advertisement.


Ads in Pakistan are also built on the same problematic and troubling ideologies. Consider the following advertisement released by Harpic and aired across Pakistani television:


The advertisement explicitly mentions that a woman’s most powerful weapon is the toilet bowl cleaner. Within the advertisement, there is a man selling Harpic cleaner bottles, and several women are running after him to make the purchase and vouch for the brand. And this is not only about Harpic, as many other clothing detergent brands in Pakistan have been following the same recurring theme, where a celebrity or a male artist is shown to be projecting the benefits and attributes of a cleaning product, and women are shown to be running after him to apparently buy that product for household consumption. While there is nothing wrong with women choosing to do all of these tasks, in a south Asian context, this reinforces the narrative that women are solely responsible for doing all household chores such as cooking and cleaning. With advertisements like these, women are highly marginalized, with their role in the society shrunk to just these responsibilities. Why are men not shown to be conscious of whether the surface of their toilet bowl is clean? Is cleanliness of the house solely a woman’s responsibility? Why are men not shown to be interested in buying any sort of detergent to wash their clothes?


These are some very important questions that marketers must consider before they release marketing campaigns. Mainstream television remains one of the most important and prominent sources of media, and if brands do not remain conscious of the narratives that they are feeding their audiences with, then the effects may be detrimental in the longer run. As social media also emerges to become one of the mediums by which brands market and advertise their product portfolios, it is important that social media marketing campaigns must also be monitored and checked for before they are made accessible to the audience at large.


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10 Comments


The harsh criticism and objectification faced by women does stem from the societies and people that these corporations are making adverts for, but corporations are furthering these discriminatory and repressive practices with their ads. They keep on repeating the same narratives, even though they could stand out from their competitors by presenting alternative stories.

The Audi advert promotes mothers-in-law being overly critical and judgmental towards the women that their sons marry; it does this with the statement "an important decision must be made carefully". So, if a marriage between a man and woman is to happen, it is crucial for the bride's physical features to be inspected like a car's specifications by the mother of the groom. She is right…

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Hi Noor! Thank you for your input. I absolutely agree with what you said, especially the last bit of your comment, where you highlighted how certain brands have tried to step out of their comfort zones to create advertisements that challenge pre-perceived beliefs and notions. These adverts are indeed extremely refreshing to watch, and also leave the audiences with some food for thought, unlike certain adverts that keep pushing the same problematic narratives across several marketing campaigns.

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the prevalence of misogyny in Pakistan is very clearly seen from almost any ad, where the woman is in the kitchen making food or doing some other household chore, and thats all they ever do. Ads are a very powerful marketing tool and for it to belittle women and discriminate against them, is very dangerous as people minds are shaped by watching these, and ads like these will just further embed the ideas of discrimination against women which is something we should try to move away from.


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Hi! Thank you for your input. I absolutely agree with you - ads are indeed an extremely powerful marketing tool, and brands should make careful use of this tool instead of using them as means of reinforcement for subsiding women.

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I agree with the entire stance you have taken. Advertisements play a very huge role in reinforcing gender roles created by our society. That is why I feel there should be a backlash from the audience and as consumers we should try to boycott all the brands releasing problematic advertisements, like Nando's, because these brands only care about their profits and revenues. And when they fear losing a huge customer base, only then they will change the media they produce.

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Hi Natalia, thank you for your input. I agree - while censorship of media or forms of art should never be the answer, in cases like these where brands gain capital out of gender discrimination, brands should definitely be banned by consumers. That is the only way for us as viewers to communicate the problem that there is with such ads.

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Aaniah, this was a great read!

I think this larger objectification of women that you talk about is reinforced with Mulvey's discussion of the male gaze where the women's existence is spatially transformed as well.

Mulvey highlights how media products, like the advertisements in this blog, are able to make women into passive subjects surpassing and across "time" and "space" where they can be reduced to an object which as you've hinted with the Nandos advertisement above happens to women all the time.

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Hi! Thank you for your input. I completely agree with what you said. Your comment offers great insight into how ads and media products reduce women into stereotypical or preconceived roles.

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The Nando's ad is extremely disturbing to read about, and I cannot believe a group of well-educated people in the marketing department thought it would be a good idea! Advertisements are definitely one of the most subconsciously consumed forms of media, and they are a great way of reinforcing narratives that suit society. Whether it's Dalda cooking oil, Vim Lemon Max Bar, Ariel Surf Excel, or Shan Cooking Masala, it's always the concerned housewife/homemaker/mother at the forefront of the advertisements. I do think that agencies are now trying to take a step in the right direction by suvbverting gender roles, but for the most part agencies especially in Pakistan are sticking to the stereotypical gender roles, because those are easier…

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Hi! Thank you for commenting. I agree with what you said. And yes, while there are ads that are now trying to create a shift in switching gender roles between men and women, I still feel that the media industry as a whole has a long way to go before it can actually move past stereotypical gender discrimination being employed in ads as a means to sell products.

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