Ad image ad nauseam to women
"I want your body. And I want
In an ad which appeared
almost daily in Houston
newspapers over the past several
months, a young woman wearing
a bathing suit displays her
cleavage while she solicits a
"body" - "to lose 25 pounds in 50
"I handle that account. I work
directly with Mr. Norman Wells,
the creator of the ad/' said Pat
Nerrill, a Houston Post retail
IN $0 MINUTES
sales representative, as she
defended the "I want your body"
"He (Wells) does have a
legitimate weight reduction
business," Nerrill explained to
women who had come to get
answers to the question: "Are
Those Ads That Bad?" at the
afternoon session of the
"Dialogue with the Media" conference at the Rice Media Center,
"This particular ad was one of
three we put together in his office
one day," Nerrill said. "He asked
my opinion and I had to say that
'I want your body' was the most
spectacular of the three he
showed me. An ad is supposed to
do very rapid things in a
newspaper. You have only six
than 50 percent of the public was
poor advertising," asked Gay
Cosgriff, a member of Northwest
NOW. "It surely doesn't make
sense if you make over half the
buying public angry."
"That's correct," Nerrill said,
adding, "but Mr. Wells has his
own idea about his business and
how he can present it to the
"If you let him," Cosgriff
"This person (Wells) is a good
example of someone who knows
how to use his money wisely. He's
really come a long way," Nerrill
"I understand Wells is the co-
owner of the Zipper Lounge and
the My-O-My Club. I think he still
has a long way to go," said a
The conference participants
seemed to agree that most advertisers and people who
represented them have "a long
way to go."
According to Dr. Virginia
Davidson, a psychiatrist at the
Baylor College of Medicine, even
professionals-people she feels
should know better-are subjected to "sexist" advertising in
professional journals and do not
speak out against it.
Davidson said the greatest
abusers are the drug companies.
"Here is a woman in a night
gown in a seductive pose, indicating her sexual availability,"
Davidson said narrating a slide
show on the image of women in
drug ads. "And here is one in
chiffon, the little see through, the
nudity-all to advertise a sleeping
"The younger, sexually attractive women are depicted in
medical magazines because
advertisers know that is what
most psychiatrists and other
doctors want to see in their
patients," Davidson explained.
"Women over forty, are
"I'd like to see some ads that
don't offend feminists," says
psychologist Mary Drouin. Other
participants (1 to r) are Cilia
Estrada, Marilyn Black and
seconds to capture your audience
and I told him I found it obnoxious, but I felt it had the most
Using women as sex objects to
attract consumers and what
women can do to stop advertisers
from exploiting women were, as
moderator Ailene English said
from the outset, issues on which
the workshop would center.
The "I want your body" ad,
which is locally-produced,
generated a great amount of
dialogue among panelists -
Post's Nerrill, Southwestern
Bell's Karen Roach, Ogilvy &
Mather's LaNeil Gregory, and
psychiatrist Dr. Virginia
Davidson-and the audience,
composed mostly of feminists.
"But I thought alienating more
usually depicted as less attractive, as overweight, with
wrinkles, always depressed, and,
in need of some drug. The
message seems to be how sorry
the advertiser feels for the
physician who must deal with
To Davidson, the difference in
advertisements in medical
journals and that seen by a
general audience is that the
population to whom the ads are
directed-women-never even see
"These ads are for male
doctors," she said. "The victims
are women who never see them."
English pointed out that there
are many ads that are seen by the
general public and that are
regarded as tasteless.
"Redbook Magazine recently
conducted a survey," English
said, "and 73 percent of their
readers agreed that women are
portrayed in stereotypes as
housecleaners and mindless
According to Karen Roach,
women are failing to do anything
about the way they are depicted
"Women still go out and buy
these products," she said. One of
the worst ads is Wisk's 'ring
around the collar' where women
are made to feel guilty for their
husbands' dirty neck, but women
- who do most of the shopping -
pull that product right off the
shelves into their baskets. The
only way to stop this kind of
advertising is to stop buying the
that they are going back to the
hard sell and this seems to mean
that we're going back to
To the contrary, said Ogilvy &
Mather's LaNeil Gregory. She
said a large number of today's
ads are informational. "This is
the trend," Gregory explained.
"The advertisers feel the
customer has to know about the
product before using it," she
said. "You have to remember
that nobody advertises for any
reason other than to sell his own
product. So whatever it takes to
sell a product will be done."
"And," added Southwestern
Bell's Karen Roach, "you need to
know we're in tight money times
and an advertiser is not going to
waste his dollar. So, the only way
"It's a matter of priorities,"
Gregory said. "Right now, mine
are to do a good professional job
and to be a good wife and mother.
Philosophically, I am in sympathy with what you're trying to
change but it isn't a priority with
"I have, on occasion, refused to
write some kinds of copy," said
Roach. "It was my way of saying
the ad was distasteful to me. Y ou
can make that kind of personal
statement, but it might cost you
If a woman is fired for refusing
to participate in a sexist ad
Roach said, she has to recognize
that there are courts and labor
boards where suits can be filed
and complaints heard.
"We are going to have to learn
Panelists on the afternoon
program of "Dialogue with the
Media" discuss the image of
women in adversising...(l to r)
Ailene English, instructor of
sociology, TSU; Patricia Nerrill,
retail sales representative,
Houston Post; Karen Roach,
editor of internal publications,
Southwestern Bellr La Neil
Gregory, account executive,
Ogilvy and Mather; and Dr.
Virginia Davidson, psychiatrist,
Baylor College of Medicine.
products. Sales will then go down.
Roach continued, "We should
write the company president to
tell him we stopped buying his
product because we were offended by his ads. I can
guarantee you he will do
something about it."
Nerrill, whose opinions on
advertising caused controversy
indicated, at first, that she
previews all ads before they are
inserted in the Post. She said the
paper has the right to censor and
that ads are "screened
However, in answer to Gertrude Barnstone's question,
"What responsibility rests with
you people who handle advertising?" Nerrill said her role
was to advise the client to reach
the maximum audience.
"If the ad will sell, whatever it
is, we usually use it," Nerrill
"So it's the advertiser's nickle
and they spend it the way they
want," Barnstone summed.
"It seems to me that women
not advertisers need to be
educated or enlightened," observed a woman in the audience,
"I think we don't recognize that
we're being stereotyped in
"That's putting the burden of
guilt on us. You don't see Aunt
Jemima any more. You don't see
Frito Bandito. Well, women
have been protesting for years
too, against the negative way
advertisers portray us. It is the
advertisers that are years behind
and refuse to change.
"I really feel pessimistic about
the way advertising is going,"
said Gay Cosgriff. "Advertisers
say creative ads are good but
they don't sell. It appears to me
to stop sexist advertising is to
refuse to buy their product."
At one point the audience
questioned the feminist committment of women in advertising.
"We can't assume that every
woman in advertising is a
feminist, can we?" asked a
woman in the audience. "Lots of
them are just taking passive
roles and making the same
decisions about women's images
that their male collegues have."
"Lots of people just don't
care," Gregory said about her
colleagues. "They don't think
they're doing anything wrong."
"I feel the same way," Nerrill
said. "Believe it or not, I've
never been involved in a feminist
argument with a client, not even
"Obviously all of you have
made it," said Cilia Estrada, a
member of Inner City NOW,
"Don't you feel a responsibility to
support your sisters? Can't you
"It is hard to describe the
feeling I have," Nerrill said. "I
am simply not so much aware of
the problems you speak of."
Elma Barrera, a reporter of
KTRK-TV said, "People who feel
they have to join a feminist
organization to learn what we're
talking about are wrong. You
don't have to go braless or start
wearing overalls. It is simply a
matter of supporting your
sisters...of working with them
and not against them in decisions
An attorney in the audience
said that as a member of the legal
profession, she tries to make her
feminism felt there. Does the
same hold true for women in
how to use our clout," she said.
"I'm lucky I chose the company I did to work for," Nerrill
said of the Houston Post.
"They've never looked at me as a
feminist or a woman.
"Yes, I'm just one of the boys,"
she stammered in response to an
"Ads are sold basically on
statistics," she said, "and only
recently have we been given
statistics on sexism. Now articles
on sexism are being written in the
trade magazines. Most of us are
from the old school, though, and
we learned how to give the
customer the best for his dollar.
My own college education taught
me that a little 'sex' in ads was
good for business."
"We capture people through
excitement and sex is a turn on,"
said Mary Drouin, psychologist.
"So if you go into the advertising
business thinking you are just
going to give information, that
isn't the way it's going to be.
Motivation comes out of fantasy.
Surely, we're not going to be
puritanical. I'd like to see ads
that don't offend feminists. But,
just what kind of sex do we, as
feminists, want to see in ads?"
Drouhys question went
It was Karen Roach's opinion
that the very people who need the
statistics and other information
on sexism in advertising do not
have access to it.
"These are the owners of the
corporations," she said, "the
people who have the power to
change things. But they read
magazines which have half naked
women in them and, thus, the
stereotype is reinforced. It is a