Inclusive alcohol advertising combats sexism and oppression


Liam McFadden | Staff Illustrator

By Rashi Seth | Columnist

Beer companies do come up with some good commercials. The Budweiser Clydesdales and the the Most Interesting Man are two iconic images associated with beer brands.

But often, beer commercials take the message and end up objectifying women for the purpose of turning a profit.

The Route 2 Brews “Leg Spreader” slogan. The Cabana Cachaca featuring a naked woman with a perfect body wearing nothing but pumps. The infamous 2015 commercial that marketed Bud Light as a way to “remove ‘no’ from your vocabulary.” These are all examples of how beer distributors sells products to men while ignoring — and often objectifying — female consumers.

Men hold 73 percent of chair, chief executive and managing director roles in the advertising industry, so it’s no wonder these ads are designed for other heterosexual men. In order to see a shift away from such sexist advertising, we need to see a change in who is making the decisions in the advertising industry. A more equal breakdown between men and women, and inclusion of people with diverse gender and sexual identities, is the only way to cultivate a diverse perspective and do away with tasteless marketing.  

The gender breakdowns among creative directors — the title for the creative lead of an advertising or marketing company — is even less diverse than that of the company heads. Last year, only 11 percent of creative directors in the advertising industry were women. While that number is many times higher than the 3.6 percent in 2008, it’s still dismally low and horrifyingly unequal.

Additionally, women account for more than 80 percent of purchasing power, according to AgencySpy, a subdivision of the American marketing publication AdWeek. This means that when it comes to who is making the decisions of what’s being bought, men are only making those decisions 20 percent of the time. And 91 percent of women said they felt like advertisers did not understand them, and 7 out of 10 said they felt alienated by unrepresentative advertising.

The lack of women making these marketing decisions shows in the commercials we see everyday. Ads for Skyy vodka, for example, have a history of portraying women as sexually desirable objects rather than consumers of the product. Their advertisements often focus on a sexually charged interaction between a faceless man and a barely-dressed, appealing woman.

The controversial Bud Light bottle label was a part of the company’s “Up for Whatever” campaign. The “no” slogans first appeared in December 2014 and was pulled in April 2015. As a woman, it’s hard to imagine how the idea of removing the word no from your vocabulary even made it off the cutting-room floor, let alone into the actual advertisement. A more diverse team with a range of viewpoints would have surely considered the implications of that motto for women and other minority groups.

The U.S. marketing team for Anheuser-Busch, the owner of Bud Light, included 51 percent women in 2015. On a higher executive level, the company employed only one woman on both its 11-person leadership team in North America and its 17-person executive team. So while the numbers are fairly decent, we can see the discrepancies between men and women increase among higher-level positions.

And after the 2015 blip, Bud Light released a commercial with Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen that highlighted its commitment to equal pay between the sexes — with Schumer stating that Bud Light “proudly supports equal pay,” which is why a Bud Light costs the same no matter if you’re “a dude or a lady.” But following the commercial, Anheuser-Busch declined to provide information about how many women it employs and if they make the same amount as their male colleagues.

Commercials and ads are a consist part of life. On the television, radio and billboards as we drive to work and school, advertising and marketing agencies hold large amount of influence on society and consumers. And thus they should also be taking the initiative to diversify the people working for them. Recruiting a more diverse set of people from different communities and starting training programs for respecting diversity and cross-culturalism and highlighting unconscious biases is one way to start.

And they’ll pay off in the profit margins, too. A 2016 study from BabyCenter and market research company YouGov surveyed more than 2,000 people and found that 80 percent of parents liked to see diverse families in commercials, and 66 percent said such diversity was a contributing factor in what they buy. We’ve seen the benefits of diversity in other areas of media as well. A 2014 study from UCLA found that television shows with casts of 50 percent non-white main characters had the highest ratings, and films with 30 percent non-white casts earned the most revenue.

When one group of people are the main creators of commercials and ads, making those ads inclusive of today’s diverse America will be difficult. But by diversifying the people behind the ads, we can make them more representative of all people.  

Doing so will benefit both sellers and buyers alike.

Rashi primarily writes on politics and social issues for The Pitt News.

Write to her at [email protected].

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