In the world of advertising and mass media, perhaps no sales tactic is as rampant or as heavily abused as the usage of the female body and its associated connotations to move sales. Among the guilty suspects, the automobile industry ranks high as a serial offender. From print ads, TV spots to glamourized models during seasonal car shows, almost no other industry better substantiates Jean Kilbourne’s claim that in media, it is the woman who becomes the product beings sold.
However, the video I am linking here offers unconventional look at the way the “female body” is used in advertisements. (Warning: spoiler alert ahead). What appears to be a slender, attractive female model strutting towards what can only be the newest (and sexiest) model of the Toyota family, turns out, instead, to be a man at the end of the commercial. The tag line (I’m extrapolating from my knowledge of Chinese and its limited relationship to Japanese here) reads something along the lines of “dare to try a new direction.”
What’s interesting about this commercial is that it at once challenges and reaffirms the claims made by Berger and Kilbourne. While the initial appeal of the commercial lies in its portrayal of a semi-nude woman, the real driver of the message lies in the ambiguity that can exist between a man and a woman. It’s hard to say with certainty what the political message here is. Is it challenging the fact that only women can be the seller of sex and the object of advertisements, or is it only reaffirming that fact that unless you look like a “sexy” female, you are not likely to garner the attention of audiences for those precious few seconds?
Some people might argue that ads like this will only work in Japan, which has a reputation for absurdity in its media. However, you’ll note, that even there, the ad was banned. What does this tell us? What does the fact that even in a society as progressive and as quirky as Japan, people cannot swallow the fact that anything other than a female body can be the acceptable form of objectified goods?