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Current as of 17/09/14 12:20PM NZST

Air NZ chief brushes off sexist ad claim

By Hana Garrett-Walker

Rob Fyfe says response to the Rico ads has been overwhelmingly positive. Photo / Natalie Slade
Rob Fyfe says response to the Rico ads has been overwhelmingly positive. Photo / Natalie Slade

It's unlikely to have been the sendoff he was hoping for, but days before standing down as Air New Zealand chief executive, Rob Fyfe has been accused of presiding over a "pattern of puerile, sexist depictions of women".

The allegations come from Stop Demand, a group that works to "curb the sexual denigration of women".

It says Mr Fyfe might have served the interest of shareholders well, but has served the interests of women poorly, and urges his replacement "to embrace a more respectful positioning of both men and women".

The organisation cites the series of ads featuring "potty-mouthed" puppet Rico, a 'fares lower than your grandma's boobs' promotion, an inflight safety video featuring a naked granny, the use of "misogynist" rapper Snoop Dogg and jokes about female Belarusian shot putter Nadzeya Ostapchuk's left testicle.

Among the questions posed in an open letter to the airline's board and executive, Stop Demand asks:

* Why does Air NZ persist in belittling and sexualising women, young and old?

* Why has Air NZ turned its back on 'classy and clever' for 'cheap and tacky'?

* Why has the board of a national icon permitted such a puerile culture?

In his reply, Mr Fyfe said he was "bemused" by the reference to promotional material featuring Rico which has been around more than 800 days.

"I would have thought that if this was a material issue for your organisation you would have engaged personally with me well before now. I note some other content referred to in your letter also dates back over two years."

Mr Fyfe said criticism of the content was "overwhelmingly outweighed by the abundance of positive feedback and response".

He said the Rico video had drawn international attention to the airline, supporting tens of thousands of job it generates for New Zealanders.''

And he was unconvinced by the criticism of his own record.

"As for your assertion that Air NZ under my tenure has served the interests of women poorly, I am not sure of the basis of which you have formulated this view," Mr Fyfe wrote.

"It is clearly not based on the views of New Zealanders who have awarded us as New Zealand's most reputable company, or those that voted us New Zealand's favourite employer, or the several thousand female employees who have rate their engagement with the company and level of satisfaction far higher than it was three years ago."

Mr Fyfe ends his response stating Stop Demand's assertions appear to have "no substance or credibility whatsoever".

Stop Demand founder Denise Ritchie said the complaint was "not about being PC, humourless or prudish".

"On one hand, most of these ads are puerile, aimed largely at what Air NZ thinks juvenile males find titillating. At a deeper level, however, Air NZ's repeated marketing of sexist messages is socially irresponsible; it fuels unhealthy attitudes towards women and serves to reinforce a sense of male superiority and entitlement.''

Ms Ritchie said Mr Fyfe's response fell "woefully short, when weighed against respect, ethics and integrity".

Mr Fyfe is replaced at the end of the month by Christopher Luxon.

- NZ Herald

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