On being 'cleavagely correct'

A screenshot of Pleasure State's social media campaign.

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.

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?’

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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.

Daily Life would like your help to curate a list of Australia’s 20 most influential female voices of 2012. Click here to nominate -- you'll also be entered into the draw to win an iPad Mini.

34 comments

  • WOW are we really in 2012 and not 1960 etc. How are women going to be taken seriously with promotions like this?

    And what does it say about us mere males and the female breast!!

    I wonder if women were involved in development etc this advert, and if they were what were they thinking, or is it just the business $$$?

    Commenter
    Tc
    Date and time
    November 26, 2012, 8:39AM
    • What I do appreciate about this pap (no pun intended for the classicists...) is that it seems to be a bizarre feedback loop between ads aimed at women and media reportage aimed at women trying to be disappointed. Not being a woman myself, I enjoy getting on Daily Life and seeing what there is to be het about today, but please don't pretend that this stuff is sexist in the sense of male chauvinism. It's about women's sexism and stereotyping feeding into women's outrage about sexism and stereotyping, and back. I'm not entirely sure most men could, unprompted, notice the difference between the natural, customised and va voom configurations. It's just another silly ad amplified by mock feminist contumely.

      Commenter
      Mark
      Date and time
      November 26, 2012, 10:26AM
    • I didn't even know this product was available. I find Bic to be makers of truly awful pens, so I never buy them. Making them in pretty colours makes no difference to my purchasing habits.

      Epic Fail, Bic and not just because of the stupid ad campaign.

      Commenter
      Audra Blue
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      November 26, 2012, 1:39PM
  • I'd be curious to see a follow-up piece in six months assessing the success (or lack thereof) of the campaign. Despite occasional evidence to the contrary, marketing companies and marketing departments aren't usually run by idiots. They do look at previous similar campaigns before producing their own.

    The fact that campaigns like this continue to be produced as they have been for decades in an indication that they do, in fact, work.

    "...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. "

    Why on earth would they care about that? What's astonishing about it? They're a corporation, they want to sell things to customers, not care about them or understand them. As you pointed out, we've been conditioned to be receptive to this kind of advertising. So, they have a strong incentive to keep using it. Why risk losing money on a new strategy if the old one is still working?

    The issue of whether this advertising is right or wrong is a completely separate issue to whether it works or not. There's no point conflating the two.

    Commenter
    DM
    Date and time
    November 26, 2012, 8:56AM
    • Judging from the overwhelming negative feedback on the company's own Facebook page, it hasn't worked.

      Commenter
      Clementine Ford
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      November 26, 2012, 12:10PM
    • "Judging from the overwhelming negative feedback on the company's own Facebook page, it hasn't worked."

      I think a better judge would be their quarterly or bi-annual sales figures, rather than comments on a social media platform.

      All feedback on social media (including comments pages, Facebook, twitter, etc) are inherently self-selecting, which skews the responses. The only people who post are the people who care, and overwhelmingly the people who care are the ones who are upset.

      Commenter
      DM
      Date and time
      November 26, 2012, 7:17PM
    • i like your points DM. i assume the marketing dept decided they could not reach the right audience with a selling point of comfort or price, so they decided a bit of insult may just be the tonic. Did the marketing dept rely on a focus group of women (in their market range) who were social media trackers who could deplore the sexism but still like the product? Whenever these types of ads appear do you give them more juice by venting?

      Commenter
      jm29
      Date and time
      November 26, 2012, 10:54PM
  • How sad. We don't evolve all that much do we?
    When are you going to write a book, Clementine? I think we're all waiting...

    Commenter
    Heisenberg
    Location
    Townsville
    Date and time
    November 26, 2012, 9:05AM
    • Great article Clem, as always.

      Hey I just tried to nominate for the "list of Australia’s 20 most influential female voices of 2012" and it won't let you enter a name, it keeps flashing an error in the name field asking for a "numerical value". Think this might be a bug.

      Commenter
      Miffy
      Date and time
      November 26, 2012, 9:18AM
      • Thank you for letting us know. This is a bug and we are fixing it right now.

        Commenter
        Daily Life
        Date and time
        November 26, 2012, 9:32AM

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