The holiday season has officially begun, and with that comes a carefree attitude as people welcome a much-needed vacation break at the end of the year. Yet, it was unfortunate to see this carefree attitude transferred to a recent advertisement by Bloomingdale’s where a smiling female model and a male model gazing toward her had the text “spike your best friend’s eggnog when they’re not looking” placed in the center of them.
A tweet from user Lara DiamondPhillips (@Laradp) read, “Fascinated that throughout the editing process, nobody suggested this Christmas ad is a bad idea.” Chad Walters (@LifeIsChad) chimed in with, “Keep an eye on your #eggnog ladies. They’re coming. #Bloomingdales #BloomingdalesAd #daterapeisnotok.” What we want to know is how this ad, depicting a woman smiling and laughing with her head tilted away from her male companion who is leering at her in a way reminiscent of the “Blurred Lines” music video, was considered OK to print in the first place. We have become so desensitized to what rape culture is that it is now commonplace to joke about for it the sake of selling a product. Spiking a drink is the textbook scenario that young women especially are warned to be watchful for at parties so that no one takes advantage of them.
If there’s anything that Bloomingdale’s did get right, it’s their target: The “best friend.” Approximately 80 percent of rape victims knew their rapist, and 47 percent are a close friend or acquaintance, as reported by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. According to a 2007 U.S. Department of Justice report, of the 20 million women who have ever been raped, three million of them were drug-facilitated rapes. It’s horrifying to look at as a statistic, but it is even more shocking to see it advertised positively in a major clothing brand’s catalogue.
Bloomingdale’s was developed in the early 1800s in response to a women’s fashion trend — the hoop skirt — putting the store on the market as one of the first department stores, according to their website. Since then, Bloomie’s has become synonymous with a luxurious brand, and its signature “Brown Bags” are indicative of a successful shopping venture. How then, could a brand calling itself “like no other store in the world,” slip so easily in their judgment?
It appears that Bloomingdale’s may have been just following suit in what appears to be the yearly trend of disrespectful advertisements. This is not a singular incident of rape-like slogans being used in the media to sell a product. Anheuser-Busch pulled bottles of Bud Light from the shelves that had the slogan “the perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night” on its label. Anheuser-Busch, like many other companies in a “male-dominated” field, have an obvious imbalance in terms of the number of male and female employees. Former highest-ranking female employee Francine Katz cited the lack of female representation as the reason for why the slogan was allowed to go public. Yet, even Katz’s suggestion can be put into question. It would seem that because Anheuser-Busch’s target demographic — males — would explain for the lapse in judgment in promoting an offensive slogan toward women. However, we see with Bloomingdale’s that inadequate gender ratios are not entirely the issue.
There is nearly an equal gender representation across all levels of the company — even the board has six out of the 13 members as women. It’s doubtful that a company that mostly adheres to a female clientele would promote sexual assault. The problem, then, is not solely the marketing team that made the error in judgement, but the flaws latent within our society when it comes to education on rape culture and consent. Although it can be argued that there has been advancements made in educating younger populations — especially college students — about rape culture, this should continue into the workplace as well. While there may be tactics in place in larger companies like Bloomingdale’s about sexual assault in the workplace, there should be more targeted education initiatives directed toward the marketing and advertising departments, as they should not be undoing the progress that the company is making by creating offensive slogans.
The fact that this ad was sent to print shows that both men and women in the United States have relaxed views regarding consent. However, understanding rape culture is not limited to the U.S. On Black Friday, the notorious day of sales in preparation for the commercially-driven holiday season, the Singapore-based clothing company SuperGurl featured an ad on their homepage inviting visitors to “Rape Us Now,” in lieu of the traditional and far more appropriate “Shop Now” link. It is deplorable that the word “rape” has lost its linguistic meaning. Merriam-Webster defines “rape” as “unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against the will usually of a female or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent.” And while we do recognize that the Oxford English Dictionary had an entry for the word “rape” as meaning “to hurry oneself; to hasten to a place,” probably the meaning they intended to convey, using a word that so obviously has different connotations worldwide can be attributed nothing but ignorance.
In the end, what Bloomingdale’s teaches us is that there is a clear issue in how marketers present their products. In an attempt to be witty, to make a joke or be “punny,” they are overlooking the material of which they are making light of. Bloomingdale’s and Anheuser-Busch are guilty of falsely promoting a rape culture. Likewise, Nordstrom’s was criticized for selling a Hanukkah sweater that used Jewish women stereotypes and Target is currently still selling a sweater that reads “OCD: Obsessive Christmas Disorder,” which has rubbed customers the wrong way for devaluing the significance of mental health disorders.
While some are quick to judge those who take social media by storm, protesting such measures and claiming that people are too sensitive in today’s society, they are missing the point by a landslide. It’s not “too sensitive” to react when you see your ethnicity, your mental disorder, or rape culture — which could affect us all — made fun of. The truth of these marketing ploys is that they are at risk of offending more potential customers — even ones that the “insult” doesn’t necessarily apply to — which does more harm than good in the long run of making a sale.