Does advertising treat men as sex objects?

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The Simpsons - men are the bumbling slackers. Photo / Supplied by Fox
The Simpsons - men are the bumbling slackers. Photo / Supplied by Fox

Mark Irving, advertising company director on men being treated as sex objects in advertising and how we need to move away from these stereotypes.

There's a common belief in society that there are too many sexualised images used in advertising and that often it's women being used to do the selling.

While this may be true for certain products like alcohol and the automotive sector (if the wall of my local mechanic's office is anything to go by), for the vast majority of product categories, using sex to sell just isn't appropriate.

It would be a very brave client indeed who uses an oiled up male body builder to front the latest mobility scooter campaign. What I have been noticing lately though is a number of TV ads where shock, horror - it's the male being treated as the sex object.

But before I get to this, I think we should remember that as adults we're all sexual beings and once we get the basics out of the way like food, shelter, safety and coffee, many of our thoughts are dominated by money, ambition and sex.

And it wasn't me who said this but I think some fellow by the name of Freud. To try and deny this is the equivalent of saying New Zealand's in for a period of settled, fine weather over the next two months.

So back to my thoughts on what I have been seeing on TV in the last month. And it hasn't been nubile blondes in bikinis tempting me with their offers. Instead it's been men treated as sex symbols and in some cases downright idiots!

This is part of a cultural trend captured by TV programmes like The Simpsons, where males such as Bart and Homer are portrayed as bumbling slackers, while the females like Lisa and Marge are strong, smart and driven. Enough pop culture 101 though.

Some of these ads which captured my attention included one for insurance where the youngish female is cajoling her slightly hairy and more than slightly overweight partner (a male, in case the sex did need clarification) to strip off for her, while he attempts to mow the lawn. Talk about being treated like a sex object and having to multi task. Doesn't she know most males are only too happy being treated as a sex object? It's the multi tasking we object to.

Then there's the ad for some fancy cream cheese named after a rather large American city, and I'm not talking about Cheyenne, Wyoming either, where the cougar playfully slaps the man's bum at the end of the ad.

And most shocking of all, the ad with the room full of yoga devotees, where the two women who should know better, lovingly and rather too longingly admire the man's bum as he stretches out in front of them. If this isn't being treated like a sex object, I'm not sure what is. If the objects of desire in these ads were women, would the ads have been pulled? Who knows?

Without getting too analytical about things, I think there seem to be a lot of these types of TV, print and radio ads which stereotype the perceived male and female character traits and their reactions to different situations.

I think the challenge is to move away from these roles and explore some more insightful ideas to better illustrate the real benefits of the advertised products and services.

Mark Irving is the Director of Range Advertising and Communications.

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