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July 28, 2011

Fail to the V: Summer's Eve's Sexist and Racist New Ad Campaign

Last year, Summer's Eve ran an ad in Women's Day magazine called "Confidence at Work: How to Ask for a Raise". The ad featured a list of ten tips and first on that list was the suggestion that women should make sure to start off every work day feeling fresh by using Summer's Eve products.

After an outcry from women offended by the implication that using feminine hygiene products is the first step to career success, Summer's Eve agreed to pull the ad and issued an apology. They also created a Twitter account called Eve Cares to field the complaints. Director of U.S. Marketing Angela Bryant promised that Summer's Eve would do better in the future, and said, "Moving forward, Summer's Eve wants to not only connect with our customers, but to be an active leader on the issues that matter to women. We just engaged a progressive communications team, and in the next several weeks, we'll be talking to women all over the country about the issues that matter to us as women. We're insisting on open and frank discussions to make sure all of our future marketing and education efforts are relevant and respectful."

Summer's Eve recently unveiled their new ad campaign, called "The V", and it's safe to say that Bryant's promise was not kept. The press release announcing the new ads described an "empowering" campaign featuring "strong female archetypes" like Cleopatra, and stated that "Summer's Eve is not a means to confidence, rather it's a celebration of confidence, of being a woman, and taking care of their bodies." Missing from the press release was the fact that Summer's Eve makes products like douches that are considered by women's health experts to be unhealthy and unnecessary for women who want to "feel fresh" and take good care of their bodies.

The campaign, which includes print and video ads and a redesign of the Summer's Eve website, is all about praising "the V" and its role in history. The "Hail to the V" commercial shows us scenes from various times and places in history while a voiceover intones "It's the cradle of life...the center of civilization. Men have fought for it, even died for it. One might say it's the most powerful thing on Earth." Groups of men are shown battling it out with each other while women stand passively by looking pretty, and the ad ends with a modern women buying Summer's Eve to show her V "a little love".

The print ads follow along similar lines. One ad tells us that Cleopatra would have loved to use Summer's Eve products because she knew how important it was to "take care of her most precious resource. No, not the Nile. We're talking about her V." Those of us who thought that Cleopatra's most precious resource might have been intelligence, political acumen, courage, or charisma were apparently mistaken. The other ad stars Helen of Troy: "A war was fought. A whole city fell. And thousands died. Because of a beautiful face? We think not. Although you'll be hard-pressed to find any mention of her V in any history book, you can bet Helen of Troy knew what was up." It goes on to claim that Helen could have launched even more ships if she had been able to use Summer's Eve products.

It's hard to find the "empowerment" in these ads since the message seems to be that the most important role of women in history has been inspiring men to act through the power of the V. (It also seems that everyone is heterosexual in the Summer's Eve version of history.) The ads reduce women to a single body part and their strength and power in the world to their status as sexual objects, and imply that all of men’s actions are based solely on their desire for sex.

The other series of ads in the campaign gets right down to the V and doesn't show any actual women at all - instead, we only see a talking hand that is supposed to represent a vulva. (Dismembering women in advertising is nothing new but it's never been done quite like this before.) There are three Vs and they're apparently supposed to represent white, black, and Latina women, which gives Summer's Eve a chance to throw some stereotyping into the mix. The white V lives in "VaginaLand" and wants to be your BFF, while the black V calls herself "Lady Wowza" and is all about changing hair styles and making sure you feel fresh before you "hit the club". The Latina V has an accent, says "ay yi yi", and switches to Spanish halfway through the ad to rant about having to wear a "tacky leopard thong".

The Richards Group, the agency responsible for the ads, has dismissed criticism of the stereotyping by saying that their "in house multi-cutural experts confirmed the approach". (We're not sure who these multicultural experts are, but a quick glance at the Richards Group's website shows that there aren't many people of color or women on their Creative staff.) Apparently Summer's Eve thinks that "sassy black woman" and "spicy Latina" are "strong female archetypes" rather than tired old stereotypes. While The Richards Group was making excuses, Summer's Eve quietly deleted the Eve Cares page on Twitter, which had sat unused for almost a year until people started using it again to tweet criticism of the new campaign. Apparently Eve doesn't care.

This ad campaign is a Fail to the V and is far from empowering. Summer's Eve says they're hailing the V, but they're really insulting women by trying to sell us the idea that we need their products to keep our vaginas fresh, since they are the true sources of our power. They promised a "relevant and respectful" ad campaign, and what they've delivered instead is sexist, racist, and demeaning. Sign the petition and join us in asking Summer's Eve to end this offensive ad campaign.

Crossposted: Change.org


Anonymous said...

Wow, I saw those ads on the colbert report and I thought they were fake. I also saw the historical summers eve add before I saw the last Harry Potter film. Well, I gotta say, those ads are absolutely vulgar and gross and offensive. I know it's hard to market feminine Hygeine products, but seriously.

violetangel613 said...

I do see where you're coming from and this article brings up a lot of good points. BUT I must say that I do feel slightly empowered by this commercials....I thought that it was clever. Advertising is aimed at getting us to notice something. For better or worse, I think that we all have a stronger awareness of Summer's Eve. Anyway, just wanted to put it out there that I personally didn't feel offended by it.