At Perhaps the Best Moment Ever, Hornbach Unleashes an Ad for Stereotype-Smashing DIY Women

Tough work in more ways than one

Headshot of Angela Natividad

I’ve had a garbage couple of weeks since the Harvey Weinstein news broke.

The revelations. The conversations about the revelations. Then the hashtags: First #balancetonporc in France, then #metoo. Then the conversations about the hashtags. Then the inevitable questions: Could all the “me toos” be real? Why didn’t any woman stand up sooner? Can’t anyone flirt or make jokes anymore? Don’t some men just not know when they’re “harassing”? Don’t some women ask for it? What is “harassment”?

Then the explaining. Because you’re expected to explain, right? You have ovaries.

Then the lectures about your explanation: Really awful. You should have said something. Can you really generalize your experience to other women, though? Hey, you should give talks to other colleagues, other men, just sit them all down, yes, every single one you know, and just walk them through all this, step by step. Maybe then, you know, things will change. Don’t you think you’re responsible for that? 

Being a woman is tiring. But I can’t even explain how tiring it’s been this past two weeks.

Of course, amid all this—the sound and the fury and the debate over who is truly crazy or just on their way there—we expected brands to weigh in. Because that’s what advertising does, right? It has its finger on the pulse. It rides relevance. It stays “on fleek,” and hijacks movements.

What we didn’t expect was this ad from Hornbach.

You know Hornbach, the European home improvement supershop. Hornbach of naked men tumbling through the wilderness, writhing in ecstasy even as nails meet the soft parts of their bottoms. Hornbach of gristly, grubby, cup-runneth-over fathers, who can take any blow, any setback—even the collapse of a house right on top of them—and laugh, because they are free. They are constructing.

Hornbach of the burly builders.

With help from agency Heimat, it’s given us “Smashing the Clichés,” and it’s unlike any Hornbach ad we’ve seen so far. Gone now are the wide-open spaces, the wind flowing through frayed beards and whistling past bloody knees. What we get instead is a strange series of monuments draped in darkness; a half-finished dreamscape, more reminiscent of Apple’s “1984” than of hobbits with hammers.

And there’s a woman, entering the room with a sledgehammer.

It’s a room of expectations. Some are a bit too on-the-nose, like the figure of a man standing on half of a woman’s face. Some are elegant in their treachery, like the many-armed Kali in sunglasses and a swanky dress, balancing fashionable goods in each hand like scales of injustice. There is a warped pink princess. There is a female Atlas, carrying a roast chicken on her shoulders.

Then our heroine begins to smash.

“Hornbach customers are ‘doers’ and include males and females in equal measure; there is no difference between them when it comes to their project, including when the going gets tough,” says German and international marketing head Thomas Schnaitmann of Hornbach.

Destruction is a funny way to plug DIY prowess, but, perhaps because we’re in this moment now, it happens to work. This is a defiant divorce from Hornbach’s usual advertising codes. The madcap joy, bright sunlight, fresh wood and rolling hills have been left in some fictional DIY dad’s backyard.

What remains is a woman standing alone in the dark, accompanied only by cultural abstractions and—as she smashes into the disembodied hands reaching for a pole dancer’s dangling body—grim determination. The score, brought to you by Thomas Berlin (48K), is overwrought and dramatic.

It almost feels like an elegy.

“Hornbach is about treating women as full-blooded DIY enthusiasts, too; for us that was incredibly important, raw and genuine,” says Guido Heffels, creative director at Heimat.

It’s unclear whether Hornbach intentionally timed the release of this ad to coincide with the current atmosphere—the roar of silences kept for years, a near-deafening female rage. But there’s something about the conclusion of “Smashing the Clichés” that feels like a nod in its direction.

Not a single word is spoken over the course of its 45 seconds. It is silent in the full, untethered expression of its anger. Hornbach’s “manifesto” for the female DIY enthusiast appears, tellingly, onscreen: “We never said it was easy.”

And our heroine? She releases no whoop of triumph. There are no leaps in the air for her, no tumbles through the pasture. Instead, she gets on her knees and wipes the sweat off.

She is tired. She is so, so tired.

Then she gets up. What she has been smashing is a dividing wall—a beautiful metaphor in itself. And finally there is sun.

Campaign/advert name: ‘Smashing the clichés’
Media (international): TV, cinema, online, social media
Time period: TV start 20.10., cinema start 26.10.
Countries: Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Sweden, Czech Republic, Slovakia
Agency: HEIMAT, Berlin
Production: STINK, Berlin
Directing: Jones+Tino

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@luckthelady Angela Natividad is a frequent contributor to Adweek's creativity blog, AdFreak. She is also the author of Generation Creation and co-founder of Hurrah, an esports agency. She lives in Paris and when she isn't writing, she can be found picking food off your plate.