Codebreaking: Playing Spot-the-Difference in new Acura ads

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Acura released two ads promoting the new 2012 Acura TL. In each ad, a famous athlete dressed in full gear and uniform is systematically stripped down to their undies and then redressed in stylish eveningwear. Cut to TL, which is as stylish as the newly-dressed athlete, and therefore, as our subconsciousness connects the dots, as equally high-performance. Beauty and brawn (but check your brains at the door.)

One ad features a female athlete, the other a male athlete. Let’s play spot-the-difference.

The first commercial features Olympic Gold Medalist Ashleigh McIvor:

The second commercial features All Pro NFL receiver Calvin Johnson:

The commercials are almost shot for shot identical, with a few exceptions. At the risk of stating the obvious, you should focus on the exceptions.

The obvious, low-hanging fruit is that the McIvor (female) ad provides closeups of her underwear–bra and panties–whereas the Johnson (male) ad does not. Sure, it shows him in his underwear, but there’s no close-up. He does not so much as change his underwear between removing the football uniform and donning the suit. So despite McIvor’s fame and recognition for her outstanding accomplishments on the slopes, the commercial is able nonetheless to reduce her to the advertising gold standard of sex object. She starts out as an Olympic skier, but by the end, whadyaknow, it turns out female athletes can be models too.

Slightly less obvious is the fact that the commercial subtly includes the woman’s underwear as part of her attire. For him, dressing up means choosing just the right tie and watch. For her, however, dressing up includes lacy underwear. (Even if this is true in real-life, why do you think it’s important to reflect in a commercial?)

But the commercial acknowledges one other glaring inequality in our culture. He is an NFL receiver. A professional athlete. She is an Olympic skier. An amateur. (And a Canadian one at that.) Quick, name one female professional athlete. Outside of golf and tennis, it’s almost impossible. So in an effort make this matched pair of ads, Acura inadvertently reveals one of our society’s starkest remaining inequalities. Professional sports, and all the money, influence, and status that conveys, is still dominated by men.

What else did you notice? 

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9 Responses to Codebreaking: Playing Spot-the-Difference in new Acura ads

  1. Petulant Skeptic says:

    Ashleigh McIvor is in no substantive way an “amateur”. She is a member of the Canadian National Olympic Team (who cover her living expenses and give her a stipend while she trains—the same as members of the US Olympic Team), she has numerous sponsorships that pay her additional monies, and she has very few expenses.

    In fact, boxing is the only sport to which the International Olympic Committee even makes a pretense of caring about amateur status (they claim it is a safety issue—who knows?).

    That you didn’t know of McIvor as an athlete and could not have named her as one says nothing about her standing as one. Had you asked me to name female athletes I could have reeled off a dozen or more female skiers (then again, I grew up ski racing…). If your point is some sort of cultural asymmetry between male and female team sports, sure, you’re definitely true. It’s also true that (aside from women’s soccer), women’s team sports are monumentally boring compared to their male counterparts and thus attract a small(er) audience. It isn’t necessarily a covert action of the patriarchy looking to maintain its position.

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  3. Hypocrisy Illustrated says:

    ” Quick, name one female professional athlete.”

    You give a nice clue: “…closeups of her underwear–bra and panties…”

    Quick name one male professional underwear model.

    We idolise our fellas as high performance gladiators in competitive sports and our ladies as “angels” on the catwalks or the pages of the fashion glossies.

    Is this observation anything new even for the twenty-first century values?

    Even for ladies tennis, how much of the attraction is the short skirt factor?

  4. Hypocrisy Illustrated says:

    Another thing, what do you think of the focus on the watch?

    A functional decoration that insinuates its owner is a guy of action, who makes things happen?

  5. Hypocrisy Illustrated says:

    McIvor asks an interesting question: Why did they the pick a male athlete who plays a team sport and a female athlete from a individual discipline? Don’t team sports enjoy higher status / respect? Does this mean anything?

  6. cat says:

    What stood out for me was the voice-over’s comments.

    “It works with people, it works with cars” – image is everything, it’s all about what you are on the outside. The outside masks the inside (we don’t care what’s inside, anyway).

    The woman and the car are commodities, fetishized.

    “Aggression in its most elegant form” – maybe the woman is aggressive (she’s a sportswoman) but when her external appearance is made to appear elegant, that part of her is masked. Now she’s more acceptable. Now you can take her out, show her off. Like you would with the car.

    The strip-tease is nothing new – that’s been done forever. But here, the woman is passive and is stripped by hidden people, like robots in a car factory.

    The woman is physically present – she’s the thing being transformed. But she’s not transforming herself. She’s not being transformed for herself. She’s being transformed for you.

    She’s an object.

  7. BluegrassJack says:

    1. The ads feature an attractive and active white woman and black man.
    2. Think of and look at the Acura logo, or marque.
    3. Think of and look at the front grille of a ~1958 Ford Edsel car. Look at the Edsel from directly in
    front. Those of a certain age will have to Google that.
    4. Advertisers for certain products put sex into an ad wherever and whenever they can.

  8. wisegirl says:

    I think the ad is insulting to female and black athletes for different reasons. The ad is insinuating that the male athelete is un”refined,” a machine, devoid of culture and emotion, a pawn in the high-stakes arena of professional sports. Slap a beautiful suit on him and play classical music while doing so and suddenly he has the air of a sophisticated gentleman. We are still aware that it is all just smoke and mirrors, he’s still the same machine in better clothes. The female athelete is a sex object and the male athlete an object of a different nature.

  9. BluegrassJack says:

    wisegirl

    There is no reason for the Acura manufacturer to deliberately insult any potential buyer of an Acura. The advertising agency must have field tested those ads on real people before putting them out. Acura would have pulled the ads, if they didn’t pull in many more buyers than insulted ones.

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