Monday, October 13, 2008

Brooke Shields and VW Routan Team Up - For Sexism?

A couple weeks ago, I was driving around town and heard a new radio spot featuring Brooke Shields for VW. A day or two later, I heard the same ad and it bugged me just as much as the first time I'd heard it.

The ad speculates that women everywhere are getting pregnant in order to justify their purchase of the new VW Routan minivan. Women. Like it's a one-sided deal. Like women are mischievous and manipulative. Like our duty in life is to have babies and drive minivans.

Yeah, I know it's a joke. It's supposed to be a playful spoof on the "soccer mom" stigma. But I'm a college educated woman and, in fact, a mom. And though I don't consider myself a feminist by any means, as a Women's Studies minor sometimes things evoke a sense of sexism for me. And this is one of those times.

Last week, I saw the TV spot:


In her article in Adweek, Barbara Lippert critiques the spot for a few far-fetched connections, like those it supposedly has between the phrase "German engineering" and "genetic engineering," reminiscent of the tragedy Hitler caused, and the struggle with post-partum depression Brooke Shields had after her last pregnancy.

Listen, I'm not trying to nitpick here, but this one really does disturb me. It seems the "role" of women in our society is so ingrained that no one thinks twice about it. Yeah, I know they're trying to get past the label "soccer mom," but can't they do it in a way that doesn't offend educated women and career moms? It could be as simple as CP+B using the word "families" instead of "women."

22 comments:

Christine said...

I haven't heard the radio spots, but based off the commercial my first thought is CP+B was just naive. At face value, I get the humor and it didn't offend me nearly as much as it did Megan. But when you think about it, and after reading the AdWeek article, Brooke Shields as the spokesperson is an odd choice. Add in the german accented car making it hard to forget the potential "genetic engineering" tie. It's then hard to imagine that they missed this issues while making the spot. I'm going to guess this is CP+B intentionally trying to stir up some controversy.

BB said...

I don't feel like it's meant to say anything. I think that, like most CP+B commercials, it's just supposed to be absurdist. I admit - I think it is kind of funny because the premise IS so preposterous - obviously, no woman has a baby to get a minivan or SUV.

joshjs said...

They have a product they'd like "soccer mom" types to buy. It's not so out of left field to acknowledge that demographic in their commercial.

Anonymous said...

I find those spots absolutely annoying.

ChatPat said...

Another anti-American celebrity! It would be nice if Ms. Shields could support the American economy and the American auto industry, especially now when so many hard-working Americans are facing job lay-offs in Detroit due to German engineering. She should move to Germany. I'll drive her in my GMC!

Anonymous said...

I think the fundamental problem with this and the Gates-Seinfeld campaign is that neither is all that entertaining when taken at face value. Absurd and entertaining can work. Absurd and unentertaining never will. Combine absurd, unentertaining and potentially sexist and it's time to consider an "I'm a Routan and I've been made into a stereotype" exit strategy campaign.

Anonymous said...

Let me start by stating the end conclusion for me on this latest VW advertising spots, I will never buy or lease a VW. It started for me with the previous campaign; the "V-Dub" commercials with the terrible German impersonation. Just aggravating, could not for the life of me figure who the target market was in that campaign and who though these ads were any good? Yeah German engineering, I get it, Mercedes is German but do they shove it down your throat, we get it. This latest attempt at being witty for me is absolutely offensive. Do couples who can not have children for one reason or another find these spots "cute",I think not. I am simply offended by the cavalier notion and lack of responsibilty that VW is putting on having a family. Did they do any market research and testing of these ads? Some say there is no such thing as bad publicity - but this cliche statement does not in my mind hold true here. VW, I suggest you mature or all you will have someday are sales of your "starter" cars
greg

Bill C. said...

The Routan is a re-badged Dodge Caravan and is produced at Chrysler's plant in Ontario.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volkswagen_Routan
So not only is this a bad ad, using the phrase "German engineering" in reference to this car is quite a stretch.

Anonymous said...

As a woman who is currently undergoing infertility treatments I have a real problem with the Routon Ads.

...it's like yeah, I've been undergoing invasive procedures, injections, medications, and regular heartbreak for almost 2 years, just so I can buy a Volkswagen.

We need America to respect infertility as the devastating medical condition that it is, not a joke for a car commercial.

Anonymous said...

"by no means a feminist" ? What do you think feminism is? Loved your post, but was confused about that comment. Isn't feminism the belief that women and men should have equal rights under the law and be treated as equals as human beings? Don't be afraid. You are so a feminist! :)

Megan said...

Thanks, anonymous. I was actually so stoked to see Gloria Steinem on Oprah this past week. Love her! And she made the same statement--that being feminist simply means you believe in equal rights for men and women. It set me straight. I had been so different than most of my Women's Studies classmates that considered themselves feminist--quite a few of them lesbians--that I guess I had distanced myself from the term. But you're right...I am a feminist! Thanks :)

Anonymous said...

There is a print ad this month in National Geographic Kids! A magazine for 6-12 year olds! My girl is six and can read every single word. I was appaled and ripped it out of the magazine. The ad belongs in an adult magazine not a children's nature magazine! Why talk about getting pregnant in a child's magazine. I wrote NG to complain. I thought it was in very bad taste! any thougths from anyone else?

Anonymous said...

Lighten up. It's not meant to be serious, it IS meant to be absurd. And guess what? It's not all about you.

Anonymous said...

the commercials are hilarious...some of you women need to take a pill and get over yourselves...it's an ad not a social statement...get a life!

Anonymous said...

Given the fact that the entire concept for Volkswagon (”people’s car”) was developed by none other than Adolph Hitler (it never went into production because priorities were shifted in the late 30’s in Germany from car making to war making- but a prototype identical to the “bug” we all know was presented to Hitler as a gift), and that in the 1930’s “each day 10,000 babies were born just for German (human) engineering”, I find the whole concept for the ad campaign sick.
The Germans promoted and perfected the Science of Eugenics to promote the “master race” in the 1930’s. Here they are promoting it once again this time to promote car sales.
Given the VW’s tarnished history, the ad agency that came up with this campaign ought to be taught a history lesson.
And I damn sure won’t be driving a VW anytime soon!

Megan said...

In response to:

"And guess what? It's not all about you."

and

"some of you women need to take a pill and get over yourselves...it's an ad not a social statement...get a life!"

Let me guess: White, male, 20 - 40 years old. Of COURSE you would make comments like these.

The fact that these ads offend a large subset of the population (even just as evidenced by the comments made here) means that something is wrong. That's just the problem--you scoff and tell us to "get over ourselves" as you hide behind the dominance of patriarchy knowing you're safe from such scorn, never having to defend yourself for just being a human being.

Carly said...

I think Brooke demeans herself by being in these ads. I don't think they are funny or entertaining, just absurd. I mute the TV or switch to another channel every time the ad is on. I am completely offended by them and so is my husband.

Anonymous said...

I can't help but remember the real German engineering under the leadership of remember him Adolph Hitler...... come on people get real..... have we become so insensitive that we forget what happened to millions of people "with German Engineering."

Anonymous said...

I can't belive that an ad agency would actually find this commercial effective at selling cars. It's in poor taste, sexist and insulting to women. Pregnancy is not a joke, especially to the millions of women in the US who cannot conceive.

I will never buy a VW again solely because of this ad.

Christine said...

I never would have thought this commercial would incite the kind of reactions we're getting on here and somehow I doubt CP+B would either, even if they were trying to stir up a little something. But this is really interesting! I never would have anticipated some of the reactions we've gotten on here.

Anonymous said...

I agree that this campaign is offensive and insulting. Bringing children into the world is a joyous experience, which certainly has humor associated with it. However, the premise that people have a child as an excuse to get a car is NOT funny. Saying that it is supposed to be sarcasm doesn't defend it because part of what makes sarcasm effective as a humorous or rhetorical device is that it builds off an element of truth. So then the commercial does imply that there is some truth to its premise. To make things even worse, the commercial specifically ascribes these offensive actions to the pregnant women. How is a car company supposed to attract customers by being rude to them?
I just saw an article about how mommy bloggers led the charge to get a condescending ad for Motrin pulled off the internet. Any chance such a campaign could work with this ad?

Christine said...

Anonymous—
Yes, the tie between the recent Motrin commercial and this VW ad is interesting when you consider how they've upset consumers, yet there is much less blogger press about this VW ad. Check out our post on the Motrin uproar from yesterday.

I do believe a similar movement could start with regard to this VW ad. The Motrin movement started with a number of mom bloggers and twitters and most particularly a video on You Tube. Go for it!