Freak Week: Women’s Studies

Images of women caused a stir in advertising on three continents last week, but for vastly different reasons. In Belgium, a graphic designer named Tanja Kiewitz — who is missing the lower half of her left arm — has become an overnight sensation after appearing in a disability-awareness print ad for Cap 48 that plays off a famous old Wonderbra poster. “Look me in the eyes … I said the eyes,” reads the headline on the ad, showing Kiewitz posing in a bra. That’s the exact headline that ran with a similar photo of model Eva Herzigova on the classic Wonderbra execution — though the new ad, of course, is intended not to sell lingerie but to emphasize that people with disabilities can be normal, sexy human beings. “People often think that handicapped people don’t have a personality, that they are strange people,” Kiewitz tells the GlobalPost. “They have to see that I’m a woman above all, and that I can be beautiful and sexy, and the handicap is secondary.” She adds: “It would be good if handicapped people started to be used to advertise other things. Why don’t we have more people in wheelchairs speaking on TV? They can speak as well as anybody else.”

In Australia, the big ad story was much less empowering for women — it involved a Calvin Klein ad getting banned for being suggestive of violence and rape. Australia’s ad watchdog ruled that the ad in question, showing Dutch model Lara Stone half naked and getting tackled by three men (one of whom is pulling her hair), “was demeaning to women by suggesting that she is a plaything of these men. It also demeans men by implying sexualized violence against women.” Gang-rape imagery, unfortunately, is nothing new in advertising, with this new image being quite reminiscent of a 2007 ad that got Dolce & Gabbana in trouble.

In Florida, meanwhile, the female-focused ad controversy was just plain weird. A health clinic in Port St. Lucie, Fla., placed the ad with a boy kissing a woman’s pregnant bell -in the local papers. Soon, bizarrely, complaints started flooding in. “We were deluged,” a rep at the Heart & Family Health Institute told the local media. “Callers kept saying, ‘You’re disgusting! I can’t believe you’d put that in the paper: a picture of a man mooning a child.’ ” Yes, it turned out many readers saw something very different in the image than what was actually there. Adds a second client rep: “People were screaming at us about it, and none of us could fathom which ad they were talking about and what they were seeing.” Rather than explain the difference between a woman’s pregnant belly and a man’s backside, the clinic chose to replace the image with a different one entirely.

Finally, the most innovative campaign of the week came from Droga5, which devised a location-based scavenger-hunt game to promote Jay-Z’s upcoming memoir, Decoded. Giant pages began showing up in places mentioned on those actual pages in the book — all relevant in some way to Jay-Z’s life. The people who discover them first can “claim” them via text message, and then “decode” them online, with help from Microsoft’s Bing search engine. It’s a very cool campaign, marred only by the grand prize — two tickets to see Jay-Z and Coldplay. That stretches the concept of winning awfully far.

Best of BrandFreak: Travelocity gnome feels the heat

Is bidding on a hotel via a service like Priceline similar to being put on a spinning wheel as people hurl knives at you? Or being in a tank with piranhas? Those were the analogies Travelocity used in recent ads from McKinney. But as AdFreak’s sister blog reported last week, the National Advertising Division has suggested the commercials, which feature the company’s gnome mascot suffering such indignities, “be modified to avoid overstating the difficulty of and stress associated with using Name Your Own Price.” The NAD also took issue with an image of the gnome roasting on a spit. In response, Travelocity said, basically, chill out. The company “does not dispute the NAD’s holding that using ‘Name Your Own Price’ is not as excruciatingly awful as being eaten by piranhas, being the target of a knife thrower, or being burned alive on a spit.” Neverthleless, it agreed to pull the ads.