On being 'cleavagely correct'
A screenshot of Pleasure State's social media campaign.
By now, many of you will have seen the 'Cleavagely Correct' ads that started floating around Facebook sometime last week. Part of a marketing push by Bendon's Pleasure State brand, the ads are designed to shill Pleasure State's latest 'my fit' range. ‘My fit’ features three different looks, from 'natural cleavage' (HMO, or 'Hold My Own') to 'customised cleavage' (FMO, or 'For Me Only') to 'va voom cleavage' (OMB, or 'Oh My Bod').
Other than some cheesy marketing speak, it's an inoffensive concept. The bras themselves look comfortable, and not unattractive. Pleasure State has a reputation (at least in my head) of creating lingerie that looks more expensive than it is. I have at least one undergarment from their range, because I've always thought it was far too pretty to burn. As far as I can tell, it's a brand that women like because it's always seemed to like them back.
So I'm as baffled as the rest as to how anyone could have signed off on this latest campaign. Oh, it's not the three categories and their twee acronyms that gets me. It's not even really the fact that a team of marketing boffins have tried to introduce the term 'cleavagely correct' into the lexicon. What bothers me is that, yet again, an ad campaign has been created to fleece women of their money while openly treating them like they’re stupid.
Screenshot of Pleasure State's campaign.
The ads feature disembodied breasts encased in Pleasure State bras from the ‘my fit’ range, and ask their clientele to judge what’s ‘cleavagely correct’ in situations such as running into your ex-boyfriend (because only straight women wear pretty brassieres) and being interviewed for a job. One particularly silly example shows a woman being stopped in her car by a police officer, and asks, ‘Getting out of a parking fine - cleavagely correct?’
While there were many, many things wrong with this campaign, two things stood out like the proverbial headlights they set out to encase. Firstly, that I could actually feel myself growing stupider the more I looked at them. And secondly, that they appeared to be a portal back to the early ‘90s, a dark period in history when Tencel became popular, everyone wanted a floppy Blossom hat made out of velvet and the Wonderbra replaced women’s brains by pretending that the path to success was paved not with hard work and dedication, but a littering of Titslings that would make your cans look good.
And I suspect that’s the problem with all of the cringeworthy campaigns whose retro-sexist schtick, once so wildly successful, now seems bloated and ill-conceived and entirely out of step with an audience sick of being patronised and stereotyped. The recent marketing failure of Bic’s ‘For Her’ range (so excellently examined in this article from Forbes) is a good example of what happens when companies treat the lucrative female market as something so dim-witted and marginalised that it need only be coaxed with pretty colours and docile platitudes to throw its hard earned cash their way. Or ‘his’ hard earned cash, in the case of this exceptionally offensive campaign.
This isn’t a competition about which sex is maligned the worst at the hands of corporate shills. Let’s face it, we all come out of it pretty badly - there are few things more head-slappingly awful than the advertising industry’s take on fatherhood. But in regards to the Pleasure State campaign, what makes it particularly bad is how unnecessary it is. They have a good product that could be sold to women without posing nonsense hypotheticals that pretend their norgs are some kind of control panel for world domination. Instead, they’ve created a campaign that aims to sell its product to women by subtly shoehorning it to them through a reflected social gaze that dissects women into body parts and assigns their value based on that.
That’s not just the rantings of a feminist talking. A recent study at the University of Nebraska showed that participants - both men and women - were more inclined to view the individual body parts of women rather than the woman as a whole. Conversely, they were more likely to view men as a whole rather than reduce them to individual parts. This isn’t something that’s naturally manifested - the study showed that participants’ brains could be easily re-wired to shift these recnognition patterns. What it does mean is that society and pop culture are so used to trading on the body parts of women that these are the first things people tend to register when looking at them at all, and may be the only things people go on noticing. When we talk about how harmful images of disembodied female parts are (like the floating breasts shown in Pleasure State’s campaign that seem purely designed to have women thinking about how other people look at their chests) this is what we mean. On a micro level, it’s the sort of thing that directly contributes to body dysmorphia, self-doubt and insecurities. But on a macro level, it disadvantages women because it denies them the privilege of being considered whole people. Worse, it distracts women from legitimate concerns and intellectual pursuits; it actively makes us stupider or at the very least less effective, and keeps us in that state by peddling this same rubbish ad infinitum.
It’s these things that astonish me most about campaigns like the one here from Bendon’s Pleasure State: that a brand ostensibly designed for women - one that relies on the economic loyalty of its female customers - doesn’t actually seem to understand or even like them that much. In reducing its customers so resolutely to parts that then need to be judged and assessed as ‘correct’, all Bendon has really achieved is telling those same customers that the sum of their parts adds up to not a whole lot of anything much at all.
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