Equal-opportunity objectifiers?

In a new Chrysler ad, a lucky man has both his wife and car upgraded. But -- surprise! -- objectification in advertising goes both ways.

Published February 20, 2007 11:44PM (EST)

OK, so it might seem like an easy shot to criticize a car company for putting out a commercial that's demeaning toward women (as it might to carp about a beer ad that features breasts). But a couple of weeks ago I read a news brief about the Chicago Auto Show that estimated that upward of 65 percent of auto purchasing decisions are made or influenced by women. So it seems a little weird that Chrysler would have chosen to put out this ad, brought to our attention by an annoyed reader (click on the first ad, the one on the far left). In the ad -- which is modeled after an old Folgers coffee commercial -- a dapper man with a combover announces that he has just replaced an unsuspecting man's Toyota Avalon with a Chrysler 300 C. Naughty! Witty banter ensues, in which the unsuspecting driver uses coffee terminology to describe his new ride ("Smooth. Robust. Way more flavor"). And then our host reveals the best news of all: They've replaced the driver's wife of 20 years -- Agnes -- with a "piping hot fashion model, Isabella." Pan out to show Isabella sitting in the passenger seat.

The driver then thanks Chrysler with a voice that, according to this blog from BusinessWeek online, "sounds like Isabella just put her hand on his crotch."

The blog also points out, in the interest of parity, that Chrysler has another ad (the second from the left on the site linked to above) in which a woman has her husband replaced by a "ladies' man." BusinessWeek claims this ad is more successful and less offensive, and I agree. It might be because the second commercial is actually funnier, but I have a feeling that I reacted more strongly and negatively to the wife switcheroo because it comes across as more condescending and less playful than the husband swap. (Please tell me that they at least dropped Agnes off at the firehouse. It's only fair.)

The other irritating aspect of the whole ad campaign is that Chrysler probably intentionally made the ads annoying so that people (like me) would inadvertently do the commercials' jobs for them by talking about them with friends. I know, old trick -- but with a new twist. The BusinessWeek piece says that racier versions of the ads were "leaked" to various Web sites and ended up on YouTube. According to BusinessWeek, Chrysler's communications chief has "made a show of writing and saying how embarrassed he is" that these other ads got out. But a few months ago he said that he was happy people were blogging and writing about Chrysler's ads. Who did the leaking? I'll leave that one for the conspiracy theorists.

But anyone out there who's worried that objectification in advertising only works one way should check out these ads for Xtra-Pine in which scantily clad "cleaning hunks" offer to clean your choice of room to your choice of music, wearing your choice of outfit. (I had Brian clean my bathroom to a Latin groove, dressed as a gladiator. But, hey -- to each her own.) The raciest version of the ad isn't interactive. It's labeled "Original Hunk" and features a Matt Damon look-alike stripping down and cleaning a living room as a woman lounges nearby and ends with them poised to do it on the couch.

I'm not sure what else to say about these ads except that instead of buying a Chrysler, I'm planning to forward a bunch of cleaning hunks to my friends. Yeah. Take that. And then I'm going to buy lots of bottles of Xtra-Pine and ... clean my own bathroom?

Damn, those advertisers are clever.

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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