And the award goes to… porn culture!

Cannes Bayers ad

Every year, Cannes Lions celebrates the world’s greatest capitalists… Ahem, I mean ads. So while perhaps our hopes they might avoid actively promoting porn culture are misplaced, a wish might be that it not be celebrated as some kind of great creative achievement.

Earlier this week, an invitation to one of the Cannes Lions parties was leaked, reading, “Thank you for your interest in attending!! Please be aware that this specific list is for attractive females and models only.” The email asked that “ladies” submit “unretouched photos and or your Instagram/Facebook links for you and each of your additional female guest” for review before event details would be released to the hopeful “lady” in question.

Now this:

The ad that won bronze in the category of “indoor posters — cosmetics, toiletries, healthcare & pharmacy” was produced by AlmapBBDO agency in São Paulo, Brazil for one of Bayer’s aspirin brands, Aspirina. The message, simple: it’s cute and funny when men turn their girlfriends into porn! LOL RIGHT?

The text for the ad reads, “‘Don’t worry babe, I’m not filming this.’mov.” We can reasonably assume, considering AlmapBBDO’s past emplyment of the “women are a headache” theme, that the message is that the girlfriend in question discovers she’s been pornified and that the poor cute and funny dude in question has to take an Aspirin after she screams at him.

While media and Twitter have rightfully called out the ad and subsequent celebration of the ad as sexist and as promoting rape culture, what has not been named is, duh, porn culture.

This is nothing but a big ol’ wink from bro to bro saying, “Sex is porn. And if it isn’t, we will make it so.” I mean, what is the purpose of secretly filming a woman you are having sex with, anyway? Either it is so that you can objectify her later, turning a moment shared between two people into a creep fest for one (if the male gaze isn’t centered at all times he starts to feel left out), or in order to exact revenge later when she dumps your pervert ass. It is also about dominance, in that it signals to women that they are never truly in control — when men choose to film women engaged in sexual (or sexualized) acts, they ensure that experience no longer belongs to them, but to the man — it is for him (and, potentially, countless other men).

The complaints about “rape culture” are well-intended, but denote an ongoing fear of naming the problem. To be fair, the sex in question is implied to be consensual — it’s the filming of sex that was not.

The desire to maintain porn culture and the capitalist system that supports an advertising industry makes calling out this kind of sexism difficult. While we can (and should) name individual sexist ads as such, if we aren’t willing to address why these ads exist and what they mean, it’s unlikely we’ll get very far in terms of combating the actual problem.

Gallop herself believes radical change can happen through the capitalist project and within a context of corporations. She doesn’t want to work against the porn industry, but alongside it, as an alternative. When she had trouble finding money to fund her MakeLoveNotPorn project, she said she simply wanted to “do business on the same terms and conditions as everybody else.”

“I’m fighting this battle very publicly, because the answer to everything that worries people about porn is not to shut down, censor, clamp down, block and repress, but to open up and welcome and support people like me and my team, who want to disrupt the world of sex and porn for the better.”

But unless we do fight the multi-billion dollar porn industry, small “alternative” projects are unlikely to make a dent in the massive pockets of porn producers, which means porn culture will continue to expand, rather than shrink.

While certainly rape culture and porn culture go hand in hand, and certainly things like revenge porn qualify as a form of sexual assault, in that women are violated by it, what the invisible man whose voice is featured in the Aspirina ad is doing is making sex into porn. “Voyeur” is a role men have learned to enjoy as the dominant sex, positioned in opposition to the object that is “to-be-looked-at” (women). This is the basis for the objectification that happens in ads, on the street, and in pornography: that women primarily exist for men’s pleasure and titillation. If women are not serving this purpose, they are useless, invisible — a headache.

This message is made clear by the invitation to the “Wednesday Party” and by the AlmapBBDO/Bayer’s ad, but also through advertising and the porn industry as a whole. These projects are not disconnected, and while shouting angrily on Twitter is purposeful in terms of amplifying a message and drumming up well-deserved shame towards sexist companies, mislabeling the actual problem in an effort to avoid shaking up the system too much will ensure the system simply buries it’s aims a little better while maintaining it’s bottom line.

Update/June 24, 2016: Bayer has tried to distance themselves from the AlmapBBDO ad, despite admitting they approved the ad. A statement to AdWeek reads: “AlmapBBDO deeply apologizes for any offense caused and takes full responsibility for the creation of the work.” The agency have since withdrawn all of their Brazilian Bayer ads from .

VaynerMedia founder and CEO Gary Vaynerchuk responds to Cindy Gallop on Twitter, saying he is “mortified” by the email that went out, stating only “attractive women and models” may attend The Wednesday Party, which his company sponsored. While Vaynerchuk says the agency was not directly involved in hiring the events company that sent the email and that the message was not reflective of the company or its culture. He added though, that as the CEO of the agency, he took responsibility for it. Ben Lerer, founder and CEO of Thrillist, the other sponsor of The Wednesday Party, says, “No one at Thrillist (or Vayner for that matter) knew anything about what this vendor was doing and we are clearly appalled by it.”

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • TheArtistFormerlyKnownAsYoya

    Disgusting! I can’t believe in this day and age, when mainstream media is actually paying some attention to issues like revenge porn and consent, that an ad like this could actually be given an award!

  • Sara Marie

    Excellent article, Meghan.

    “I’m fighting this battle very publicly, because the answer to everything that worries people about porn is not to shut down, censor, clamp down, block and repress, but to open up and welcome and support people like me and my team, who want to disrupt the world of sex and porn for the better.”

    If much of what is porn today is a violation of the women in front of the camera, what is wrong with trying to shut down the industry?? It’s an industry built on “our blood,” per the title of Andrea Dworkin’s book.

    I personally know numerous women who worked for mainstream sites and badly want the videos of them removed. But their requests to do so are ignored–they signed a contract, handing over the viewing of what they may now consider to be a violation to a company that doesn’t care one wit about their well being. Yeah, that’s another thing–if porn companies really treated their performers so well, wouldn’t they understand when/if a woman wanted her video removed? Instead, they make it very hard, and in some cases, impossible, to do so. So much for caring about women’s agency. The only agency that matters is the time span one chooses to be in porn. Asking for porn of oneself to be removed is not empowering, apparently.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Right. Liberals are so intent on not offending or challenging these men/this industry, WHY?? Like, as if “alternatives” will resolved the problem you outline above…

      • Rachel

        That’s it, why are they so obsessed with not offending these men, and treading on eggshells to keep them happy? What is the point in this? Why can’t they ask themselves why? It reminds me of an abusive relationship between a man and woman, where the woman is scared to anger him for any reason. It reminds me of how many women grow up wanting only to please their constantly unhappy father, and go on to constantly strive approval from unhappy men in relationships, and the rest of the world. It took me a long Time to stop seeing men as the all powerful super men to constantly try to impress.

        • will

          “It reminds me of an abusive relationship between a man and woman, where the woman is scared to anger him for any reason.”

          An abusive relationship is exactly what it is.

        • lesbear

          It took me a long time to realize/learn that I didn’t have to give one single shit about what men think or want, too. Reminds me of a sociology 101 class I took in my last year of college to complete my gen ed requirements; we were discussing feminism (and what a joy that “discussion” was) and radical feminism came up, which included a mention of lesbian separatism. This little 12-year-old-looking freshman fuckboy starts going off about how he can’t believe that any woman would want to live only among women forever, because women are all crazy and would kill each other once their periods starts, and they won’t be getting any “decent sex”, etc etc. Cue me informing him that he is the reason women like me don’t want to live in a world with men, and cue him being completely fucking floored that I didn’t give one shit that he felt insulted and wanted an apology.

      • Cassandra

        I think it’s money in some cases and in other cases it’s that they just can’t stand to see the truth. It’s too painful.

    • melissa

      Completely agree.

  • Meghan Murphy

    I’m assuming, based on their other ads that employ the theme of “women give men headaches” that the idea is that the girlfriend is angry that her boyfriend secretly filmed their sex and yells at him, therefore he needs an Aspirin…

    • What Ever

      And then to give it an award … thanks for writing the article 🙂

    • Leo

      I figured it was ‘dude wants sex, maybe he says he’s going to film it, she says she has a headache (‘Not tonight darling, I have a headache’), he gives her an aspirin and they have sex and he films it while denying he’s doing so’. Women using headaches as a way to get out of sex is one of those sexist tropes after all. So, it is an example of rape culture, there’s coercive subtext.

      And urgh, here’s an image I found Googling:
      https://shielyule.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/no-sex.jpg?w=880

      Women saying ‘no’ is just never enough for them. And sex can actually CAUSE headaches for some (coital cephalalgia), plus women are more likely to suffer migraines.

  • Raquel Rosario Sánchez

    Am I the only one who read an “anal sex” subtext in this? I’ve heard stories from some of my friends that sometimes a guy wants to convince them to try anal but assures them that “it will be fine, I promise” if only they take a couple of aspirins beforehand. This was the first thing that popped into my mind when I saw this ad. Which is still sexist in that it coerces women into having painful, uncomfortable sex for the sake of male pleasure.

    Just checking. Not to be gross, but… the ad is grosser.

    • You’re not the only one. I thought he was trying to coerce her into anal sex with the offering of aspirin for the pain and the “promise” not to film it. This ad is horrible any way you look at it.

      • Bleeps

        I think this interpretation makes a lot of sense. Anal sex is so sexy and fun, you need medical care for it. All other sex acts are OK to film, but that one… it just calls for aspirin.

    • Wren

      I hadn’t thought of that. But now I can’t unthink it.

  • radwonka

    “unconsensual recording”

    aaaaaah they probably forgot that it should be called “empowered agency”

    and with that logic they should also call the agressive propaganda of porn and objectified pictures of women everywhere “sexual harassment” (because women have no choice but to see that wherever they go) but they won’t.

    Anti women propaganda has existed ever since patriarchy appeared, but we still have people acting surprised? srsly?

    I can’t take these people seriously. moreover the same people will eroticize this kind of abuse ASAP, or at least claim that there is nothing wrong with men watching and filming eroticized abuse

  • Crimelord Canada

    I took the meaning to be that the woman in question was on a drunken one night stand, filmed without consent and now she needs aspirin the next day. The second box is Cafiasprina which will “quickly alleviate pains combined with fatigue and tiredness” ie: a hangover. If so, the ad is saying, “lol she should have known better”.

  • BenEsler

    You just know that the ad industry douchebags who made and awarded this advertisement think the ensuing controversy is evidence of their rule breaking genius.

    • Cassandra

      You are exactly right.

  • Oh noes, we mustn’t repress the patriarchy. That would be unhealthy and prudish and sex-negative.

  • Cassandra

    I am extremely familiar with the ad business and this does not surprise me at all. But remember, it’s the corporations driving this when all is said and done. Ad people are generally sexist weasels, true, but as we all know, female liberation from patriarchal oppression is inseparable from female liberation from capitalist oppression. That this ad was actually awarded is only proof to me that things are actually worse for women than they’ve ever been. Thanks Liberal Feminism! Thanks Playboy!

    In addition, ads like this are sometimes executed precisely for Cannes. There are rules, I don’t know them by heart, about it running a certain number of times, but many things that win at Cannes, especially print ads, are designed to be clever, not to sell product. Winning a Cannes is prestigious for an agency and generates new business. Also, is anybody really surprised that this came out of Brazil? Also, Bayer is a German company. Hmmmm.

    Re Cindy Gallop: She has always struck me as a white woman who wants the power of a white man. She doesn’t want females to be liberated; she wants to make money and be powerful and famous. Now, is there anything really wrong with that with desire? Maybe not, but it doesn’t help ALL women. Women who think they’re going to change porn are some of the most delusional people on this planet.

  • Wendy Lisa Gibbons

    I thought it was playing on the old lne of ‘i can’t tonight i have a headache’

  • will

    “what is the purpose of secretly filming a woman you are having sex with, anyway? Either it is so that you can objectify her later, turning a moment shared between two people into a creep fest for one (if the male gaze isn’t centered at all times he starts to feel left out), or in order to exact revenge later when she dumps your pervert ass.”

    Goddamn it, I love your writing.

    On another note, can you imagine the outrage at a top industry event invite that reads “Please be aware that this specific list is for attractive males and models only. Please send a recent untouched photo and your instagram account…” and blah blah. The screeches of injury and injustice would be deafening.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Right! I mean, it would never happen. I cannot believe they have the nerve to even type those words. So grotesque.

  • IaraVasc

    Not impressed. Advertising industry in Brazil is extremely sexist. Our beer ads are proof of that: Hot young women in skimpy clothes bringing men beer (search for Aline Riscado/Verão/itaipava).

  • Meghan Murphy

    Does Cindy Gallop get praise from the anti-pornography movement?

  • Rachel

    I could’ve written your reply myself. Very few people do realise how ridiculous it is. And even the campaigns where men have been dressed and posed as women I adverts to show how stupid the adverts are, many people just reacted with the “that’s because men aren’t sexy and women are sexier” ugh. Totally miss the point. We aren’t encouraged to see men as only objects, but we can certainly admire their attractive bodies. It just doesn’t mean we reduce them to objects, because they get to be a whole person and as you said, useful. It breaks my heart to hear that’s how you’ve felt because I know (and I’m sure deep down you know) none of that is true. But the constant brain bashing from the media and society does a number on even the most confident woman’s self esteem.

    • Claudia Manion

      I agree too. We need an island to escape this shit, Rachel and Will.

  • Cassandra

    You Suck in Bed Because of Porn would be a great campaign. Sells itself because it really is true.

  • Tricia Barker

    Amen! I loved this article. What a ridiculous ad. Sadly, sexism and pointing out women’s appearances occurs in unlikely places like academia. Men in power have been known to address a speaker as the “Lovely Ms _______” will take the stage. Women are called out for the way they look in politics, academia, and places in our culture where you would think their ideas, their presentations, their inventions, accomplishments, and degrees might matter more than their appearance. Still, I do believe that men can be reeducated to care more about women’s perspectives. The more we keep talking about these issues, the more the world will be forced to change. https://triciabarkernde.com/2016/07/06/loving-feminist/ Thank you for the work you do.

  • Natalie

    Imagine if all the porn money spent annually went to creating non violent industries and localized economies. That would actually be you know empowering for women, not abuse them, and would start to propel us toward a more equal and sustainable future.