BMW’s 2012 “Caught” commercial purports to advertise the rear-view camera feature in BMW cars. In reality, it’s advertising something else entirely: sex. The ad therefore supports Kilbourne’s claims that non-intimate heterosexual sex between young and attractive bodies is the primary vehicle of advertisement.
The two teenagers are young, relatively attractive, white, heterosexual, and presumably from a decent economic background, if they’re driving a BMW. They’re dressed fancily, heading to some dance. Through the rear-view camera, the girl sees the boy making an obviously sexual gesture behind the car. When he gets in, she glares at him before kissing him.
This ad is troubling on multiple levels. First, there’s the issue of the boy’s sex-obsessed behavior. It’s troubling, yes, but not terribly surprising. We expect male teenagers to be sexual predators. What’s worse is the girl’s reaction. Despite her initial look of mortification, she responds by leaning over and passionately kissing her date. She’s complicit in her own objectification and sexualization. It seems that she has, as Berger would suggest, internalized the male heterosexual gaze. She sees herself as a sexual object for her date.
(Or, maybe, she just finds him charming, attractive, and irresistible in a quirky sort of way.)
Regarding target audience, prom-aged high school students are obviously not the demographic BMW expects to buy luxury sports cars. The people who can afford these cars are, presumably, the teenagers’ parents—that is to say, middle-aged, wealthy, and apparently white. The target audience, then, is (middle-aged, wealthy, and apparently white) adults. What’s being sold is not the car, or even the rear-view camera technology, but the fantasy (or maybe the memory), of youth and sex, of beauty and carefree fun. The promise that you “won’t miss a thing” refers not to safety but to sexual experience.
Berger, John. Ways of Seeing.
Kilbourne, Jean. Killing Us Softly 4.