A car­di­nal rule of adver­tis­ing is that sex sells. This might not seem sen­si­ble when one is con­tem­plat­ing, say, Little Debbie snack cakes,1 but it’s hard to ignore the fact that Mr. Clean is rather buff.

While it might seem sen­si­ble to extol the virtues of a given prod­uct over another — per­for­mance, for instance, or qual­ity — often the only thing a con­sumer good has going for it is style. So there’s a whole genre of adver­tise­ment which ele­vates style over sub­stance, a shadow cast by the prod­uct being adver­tised itself.

With cars and other vehi­cles this becomes trans­par­ent. There hasn’t been a sig­nif­i­cant change in inter­nal com­bus­tion engine tech­nol­ogy in more than a cen­tury; the only truly inno­v­a­tive vehi­cles — electric-​​driven cars — are still not in mass pro­duc­tion. In US mar­kets this often means either push­ing cars as acces­sories for a fam­ily lifestyle, or as penile surrogates.

It’s cars in the lat­ter cat­e­gory that German agency Jung von Matt pro­moted with this series of images. Here is one rep­re­sen­ta­tive example.


Rough translit­er­a­tion of the text is, “What stop sign, offi­cer? (Sixt has BMW Cabrios)” Sixt is a rental-​​car agency.

It’s easy to miss the sub­tler sex­ism of this ad series beneath the obvi­ous. While super­fi­cially there is no rea­son what­so­ever to fea­ture wind­blown and pre­sum­ably over­per­fect women in a rental-​​car ad — which doesn’t even show the cars in ques­tion — except to push the sex­u­al­ized nature of the cars, it’s less clear that the impli­ca­tion is women are bim­bos at best, and unsafe dri­vers at worst. So while these ads will appeal to libidi­nous fortysome­things lost in midlife cri­sis, they’re unlikely to work out­side of that extremely nar­row demo­graphic.2

Sixt et. al. should have been con­sid­er­ably more up-​​front, and offered a free year’s sup­ply of Viagra to renters.

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1. Unless one is the type of indi­vid­ual that was required by law in many states to remain indoors with the lights out this last Halloween.

2. What this sug­gests about the cre­ative team work­ing on the ads in the first place I leave as an exer­cise to the reader.

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