Are your boobs wearing the right shoes?

If sex sells, then these Reebok commercials make good business sense -- but respecting women might be even smarter

Published November 13, 2009 5:14PM (EST)

So, Reebok has these new shoes that supposedly tone your butt and legs more than regular sneakers, using "balance ball-inspired technology." (Hooray for science! I'm also hearing great things about the promise of jump rope- and yoga block-inspired technology. The future is now, people.) But since there are other footwear brands out there offering similar results -- really, if you're still wearing lazy-ass shoes that only offer exercise benefits directly proportionate to the amount you walk or run in them, you're a chump -- Reebok needed advertising that would make theirs stand out. And what's edgier or more original than objectifying women?

I saw this ad, in which a short-shorted woman tries to give a serious spiel on the sneakers, only to be distracted by the camera dude constantly zooming in on her sweet ass, while watching Hulu the other night. So this is definitely a real thing Reebok paid for. 

This morning, I saw a Tweet from The Illusionists, asking, "Is this uber-sexist (and NSFW) Reebok ad authentic?!?" with a link to what you see below. Because I didn't want to wake my husband sleeping in the next room and didn't know where my headphones were, I watched it with the sound down -- and having already seen the first ad, I concluded that this must be a parody. I mean, the camera does nothing but linger on a woman's breasts in a demi-cup bra for a full 20 seconds, before it switches to an ass shot, and then the shoes it's actually advertising. Whoever made it had to be sending up the whole idea of using sexualized body parts to sell sneakers to women, right?

Then I found my headphones. And noticed that the ad is called "Dialogue." As in, a dialogue between this woman's breasts.

Righty: Hey, did you see? Nobody's staring at us anymore. 

Lefty: Are we still hot? 

Righty: Clearly! You know what? It's all because of that stupid butt down there.

You get the idea. Now that the ass is 28% more toned and thus getting all the attention, the boobs are jealous. And that, my friends, is how you use a close-up on breasts to sell sneakers.

You know, advertising teaches me something new every day. All those times I got pissed off about a guy staring at my chest instead of talking to my face? My poor breasts were probably hurt that I stole their thunder. Would you believe I never even considered their feelings, much less the real possibility of internecine conflict between them and my butt? I just kept acting like only my brain should be allowed an opinion on whether being leered at is a positive thing, never realizing that my tits might feel all purposeless and empty inside if they go unwatched. What an appalling lack of empathy on my brain's part.

I trust I don't need to repeat my rant from yesterday on why companies trying to sell women products with images that appeal primarily to heterosexual men is infuriating. But the depressing question I didn't get to in that post is: How well does it work? Sterling-Cooper lost the Patio account with the Ann-Margret ripoff Peggy objected to, but Reebok paid for these and paid to run them. (Well, at least one -- has anyone seen the boob ad somewhere other than YouTube?) Some decision-maker was confident that women will be so enchanted by the thought of being ogled more often, they'll run out and buy these shoes. And what's really scary to consider is, they might not be wrong -- not entirely, anyway. When I ran the ads by a feminist friend this morning, she agreed that they were outrageous and insulting, but admitted she was still intrigued by the thought of toning her butt with no extra work. Even if women buy the product in spite of the ads, enough of them doing that will give the impression that the marketing strategy was brilliant.

But here's an interesting data point: According to a recent report, the undisputed market leader in athletic footwear is Nike, a company that's been selling women's shoes with ads that emphasize active participation in sports, not ogle-worthiness, since the '90s. Nike's far from perfect, of course, but when they used boobs, they belonged to Serena Williams and appeared under her crossed, muscular arms and a high-necked T-shirt that read "Athlete," with the caption, "Are you looking at my titles?" When they used close-ups on female body parts and copy about how others might perceive them, it was with text like, "My mother worries I will never marry with knees like these. But I know there's someone out there who will say to me: I love you and I love your knees," and "My butt is big and that's just fine. And those who might scorn it are invited to kiss it." If the new Reebok ads help the company knock Nike out of the top spot, then I'll admit that they made good business sense (after I'm done sobbing), but as it is, the market leader is the one that uses images of strong women who care more about being athletic than being pretty. The market leader is the one that figured out how to sell a major female fantasy: being treated with at least a modicum of respect by advertisers.


By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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