Women's ads are new arena of war between the sexes


The ad shows a scantily clad woman from the neck down striking a seductive pose. Superimposed on the image is the copy, "While you don't necessarily dress for men, it doesn't hurt, on occasion, to see one drool like the pathetic dog that he is."

The ad for Bodyslimmers' bust-boosting bodysuit has a few males not just drooling, but frothing at the mouth.

Stephen Randall, who edits a column in Playboy called $l Mantrack, took a look at the Bodyslimmers ad as well as a few others and said they were in the male-bashing vein.

"Overall, I'm not truly offended by them, but I am vaguely bothered by their hypocrisy," he said. "If the context were reversed, I think women would have every right to be outraged."

Male-bashing? Not at all, counters Nancy Ganz, who founded the New York-based Bodyslimmers in 1990 and calls herself the Queen of Body Shaping.

"I thought it was very clever and very funny," she said. "When I look at ads, I like to laugh. This made me laugh. It's an attention-grabber. And you know what? We succeeded."

Sex still sells, but the message is now mixed with a heavy dose of independence with many ads reflecting women's reality, not fantasy, said Jack Kliger, publisher of Glamour magazine.

"It used to be a woman was trying to look good and feel good so she could affect others," Mr. Kliger said. "Now, it's how she can affect herself."

For example, look at Nike's empathy campaign or Reebok's "I believe . . . " series. Add to it Lilyette's lingerie ads ("I'm no bombshell. Or an airhead . . . I'm the type of girl who doesn't like to be a type") and Avia's ("I've never been the type to let anyone tell me what I can and can't do. It's just not in me").

The change in advertising over the last couple of years seems to be a real trend, Mr. Kliger and other observers said.

But are they any less sexist than in previous years?

Bob Garfield, advertising critic for the trade publication Advertising Age, believes Bodyslimmers' "pathetic dog" ad points to a deeper issue that belies its breezy, sarcastic message.

"Notwithstanding the joke of it and notwithstanding the self-consciousness of the great body obsession, it wouldn't work if women didn't want to appeal to men in all the ways that they resent men for leering at them over," he said.

Nike and Reebok, on the other hand, are two companies striving for an empowering, inspirational approach to both their print and advertising campaigns.

In fact, Nike's empathy campaign that began in 1991 -- created by two women in a Portland, Ore., advertising agency -- received 7,000 responses from customers, one of them saying, "Somewhere in that ad is every female I have ever known."

The self-esteem aspects are strong in the copy, with one ad reading: " . . . And you know when it's time to take care of yourself, for yourself. To do something that makes you stronger, faster, more complete. Because you know it's never too late to have a life. And never too late to change one."

Reebok's "I believe . . . " ads were meant to convey the idea that there are no limits to personal growth or potential if a person was willing to make the commitment to achieve it, said Dave Fogelson, spokesman for the Maine athletic footwear corporation.

4 "The response was very, very positive," he said.

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