Friday, December 17, 2010

Offended? Cool by me.

If you hang out in the asexosphere, you've probably seen this ad, which is selling an emergency contraceptive called Plan B:

There are also video ads. I watched one, which didn't insult asexuals, but did make women look like complete idiots. (Apparently, another video ad does talk about "asexuals", but I had already lost enough brain cells.) Note that the colors of the ad are gray and purple. This is not a common color combination, but it is two of the colors on the asexual flag:

Coincidence? You be the judge, but in my opinion, it probably isn't one. Companies spend so much time and money on marketing-- I can't imagine that no one took 5 seconds to Google the word "asexual", which is a little-used word outside of biology texts and, well, asexuals. If they didn't know that "asexual" really applied to people, they would have put a dash in the word, like they did with "a-social".

In the past few days, I've read many comments from asexuals about the ads. Some people are offended, and some aren't. Some think it was an innocent mistake, and some people think that it wasn't so innocent. Some wrote letters to the company or left comments on Youtube, others didn't. Reading Sciatrix's post on getting angry and then seeing the overwhelmingly polite responses was very timely.

This is an interesting case because to my knowledge, this is the first corporate asexohater. And I don't like corporations for the most part, and I don't like advertisements. Sure, there are pockets of the corporate and advertising worlds that may not be morally bankrupt, but I doubt they are very large pockets. I don't think an ad campaign can "mean well", unless it's something like "Get an HIV test" or "Stop domestic violence". Every day, a new ad comes out that is sexist. If companies can offend feminists with impunity, why would they care about offending asexuals? If someone thought an ad saying, "Don't be like those tea-drinking tweed-wearers who don't experience sexual attraction" would make money, it would run tomorrow.

In this post, I used this quote:

"Brands can't be all things to all people. Effective marketing is the art of sacrifice..."
(Positioning Puts Branding in its Place, Hiebing)

Asexuals will be "sacrificed", if necessary. Do remember that this is emergency contraception, not Doctor Who memorabilia. We're not their target market, so the sacrifice is especially easy to make. (Yes, I know asexuals do have sex, but I doubt Teva knows or cares.)

In the 60's and 70's, people protested the government. In the current era, people need to protest corporations. Many corporations have bigger budgets than small countries. But they can live and die on the power of their brands. Maybe the ads will backfire, and Plan B will come to be associated with exceptionally air-headed people who don't know how babies are made (which is what the ads portray). Who knows?

So go ahead, be offended. They certainly don't care about offending you.


Sciatrix said...

Oh, for fuck's sake. I actually hadn't heard about this one until the LJ community post this morning and your post here.

I like the conflation of asexuality and "asociality" too. Way to play up the "can't connect with others" stereotypes.

I'm going to go write a letter now. It's going to be sarcastic and unfriendly, because that's my reaction. And you know, I'm just fine with that.

K said...

Wait, Teva pharmaceuticals?

Something else that Teva did recently may be relevant... I found it highly disturbing. Look: Waking up from the Pill - the relevant part is on the 1st page.

Teva pulled some weird marketing stunt for The Pill where the company organized a fake 50th birthday party for it. This is in stark contrast to some of the feminist posts I read about the 50th anniversary of hormonal birth control - there were good posts that looked at its seedy history - like who it was originally tested on all those years ago.

I had a bad run-in with HBC, so I'm inclined to be more critical of it. This is sort of bad for me - I've seen bloggers say stuff like, "Thank Maude for The Pill," and yeah obviously that worked out really well for you. But like, The Pill, and prescription contraception is like.... It's untouchable. There's this book by Laura Eldritch, I think, and I saw a 2 posts on Pandagon that came down pretty hard on Eldritch. Supposedly there's a way to be nuanced in an analysis of prescriptions, but with HBC and stuff, you gotta be real careful and watch your mouth. Plus if you do it wrong then obviously you could write an otherwise shifty article about how wimmin don't know that they secrectly want kids and will regret not having had 'em later. Which is obviously the counter-productive way to do it.

So yeah... Teva pharmaceuticals... This isn't the first time they've pulled some fucked up marketing stunt involving hormones for the ladies. And I am disappointed that I have seen so few pick up on their fucked-up'ed-ness. The "I can go be asexual" ad is gross.

Ily said...

@Sciatrix: Well, I'm glad to present some news that's actually news, for once :-) I want to make a note to myself to do a post on the "asocial" stereotype one of these days.

@K: Indeed, Teva. Thank you for the background! I didn't know they were the largest maker of generic meds, for one.

Sciatrix said...

Dooooo it. If you do it, I don't have to. :P

Ily said...

I think I will, although it probably won't be that similar to what you would have written. Anyway, watch this space :-)

Carolyn said...

I don't see why using the colors of AVEN would mean they are trying to insult asexuals or how that would sell more Plan B. I mean, you said yourself they don't care about selling to asexuals, why would they care to research the actual meaning of the word opposed to using it to refer to someone who is celibate? We all know no one "becomes" asexual, so the sin they are committing is that of spreading miss-information about the term. Maybe it's a good chance to get out there with more education. Sad that is has brought bad feelings, i have previously thought this product was a great step from women's empowerment, which I know is an important goal for asexuals as well.

Ily said...

@Carolyn: Yeah, this is as far as I go with conspiracy theories. It's likely that the colors have no meaning, but a lot of people were saying "this was an honest mistake" and I just didn't interpret it that way. A mistake, maybe, but I wouldn't call it honest.

To clarify, I don't have problems with Plan B (admittedly I don't know much about it, past its basic function). Just the ad bothered me, and well, direct-to-patient marketing in general.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who finds it amusing that this commercial features someone talking about becoming asexual and asocial while blathering on and on? It is a bit like saying I am going on a hunger strike followed by eating non-stop.

AL said...


I find it amusing that the speaker is blathering on and on about becoming asocial, but I don't see the irony in one talking at length about asexuality. After all (as was the point of Ily's post), any association of asexuality and lack of sociability is bullshit that needs to be debunked.

Vampireseal said...

I sent Teva a message. I truly don't think that the company intentionally meant to insult asexuals. It was just an innocent mistake, but nonetheless letting a company know how you feel about their advertising is important to the company's PR and in spreading awareness of asexuality.

The only thing I do find strange is the odd "Big Sur" thing. Coincidence? Or perhaps the ad writer was a big fan of Kerouac and never forgot that line. Random lines from novels do stick in my head 20 years later.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I made a mistake. I meant to mention that it was ironic that she blathers while talking about being asocial. I should not have wrote asocial and asexual. I think it is unfair to connect the two as well. Asexuals or aces have many different personalities, social orientations and mannerisms. Some may be talkative, humorous, generous, polite, rude, quiet, extroverted, nosy, shy, asocial, anxious, charming, etc. Just like any other group, there is diversity/