Here in NYC, our regular teen mom shaming subway ads have been swapped out for black and white portraits of actresses ready to play topless football.
My first thought was “is Starr Jones going to be in a powder-puff football reality show?”
Thankfully, no (although I’d probably watch the first season). What we’re supposed to be taking away from this homage to Starr Jones’ collarbone is an awareness of heart disease in women. The organization Go Red for Women has funded this series of ads across the NYC metro system. Go Red for Women is part of the American Heart Association and promotes heart disease prevention in women.
Heart disease, as the Go Red site notes, is the “no. 1 killer of women and is more deadly than all forms of cancer.” A serious, urgent cause. Nude actresses are probably not the best way to promote this.
Did these ads get your attention? Apart from wondering if I needed to add a new show to my reality TV lineup, this campaign didn’t immediately seem relevant to me. The problem I had was that I’m a woman, and these ads are definitely not created with women in mind.
The most obvious issue with these ads is that they’re catering to the male gaze and, as a female viewer, I reflexively disregard them. These women—famous, conventionally beautiful actresses—are supposedly topless and decked out in full makeup and fancy blow-outs. It’s provocative, sexy, and isn’t meant to purposefully attract me. Usually, when I see subway ads with semi-nude women, I assume they’re peddling wine spritzers or underperforming buddy movies. I’m not interested in either.
Why create ads that cater to a male audience when you’re trying to speak to women?
Perhaps I’m part of the minority here; using sex to sell anything has become so prevalent that many of us are desensitized to it. Even if we can argue that these dolled-up celebrities are equally attention-grabbing to everyone, regardless of the obvious male slant, a bigger issue with this campaign is that the American Heart Association is using sex to sell heart disease prevention. Moreover, they’re only using this tactic in their female heart health ads.
This sexy marketing seems strange, ineffective, and downright disrespectful. It’s insulting to treat a serious, life-threatening disease with such surprisingly flippancy. It’s as if the marketing team, compelled to include women in ads about female heart disease, solved the problem of attracting attention by shooting their models topless.
I understand where the Go Red campaign is coming from; they’re trying (I hope) to show strong, powerful women who are literally getting ready to “attack” heart disease. The “Arm Yourself for Battle” tagline also conveys strength, in addition to reinforcing the tough road ahead—put yourself on the defense, and take precautions now. The celebrities are meant to grab our attention and help us understand the weight of this issue (“If Starr Jones thinks this is important, it must really be!”).
This could have been done more effectively if these actresses weren’t portrayed as sexy football players. The warped message coming through these ads is that heart disease is an important issue, but fighting or having heart disease doesn’t mean you can’t be sexy. This campaign is, simply, ineffective. Is slapping on some fierce face paint and taking off my top—totally legal in NYC, by the way—going to make other women think, “I should probably eat more whole grains”? I doubt it.
A real-life approach using fully-clothed, non-celebrity women warning us about the dangers of heart disease might better. Wouldn’t women—the target audience—be more likely to notice and respond to an ad created with them in mind?
All in all, Go Red for Women is still a worthy cause, in that it is the most visible organization working to spread awareness of the risk of heart disease in women. It is important for women to have a resource to learn about this disease, and Go Red is providing that. After all, heart disease, as Go Red notes, kills one woman every minute.
Go Red is providing an important public service. Their marketing, though, is complicating that goal.