A new Mercedes-Benz ad starring the voluptuous Kate Upton is generating some surprisingly negative buzz in the blogosphere, with critics calling it cheap and tasteless—even wondering if it's too sexy.
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"Hot girl, great car, and somehow I think this is the worst ad Mercedes has ever made," and "Cheap and stupid. Worst ad Mercedes made. Whoever thought of this needs to be fired!" are among a slew of choice comments posted on the Mercedes-Benz Facebook page.
The ad, set to air on February 3 during the Super Bowl, starts off with a slow pan upward, from feet to face, of a scantily clad Upton and her physical assets. Bluesy music blares. The screen goes blank except for a title: "Kate Upton Washes the New Mercedes CLA—in Slow Motion," and then it's back to the action, which consists of Upton suggestively blowing suds out of her hand, and then teasing and supervising a few young, wide-eyed young men in football jerseys who actually take care of washing the shiny new car.
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"It's certainly very risky," Dean Crutchfield, brand expert and Forbes advertising blogger told Yahoo! Shine about Mercedes-Benz's move. "They're clearly working on a new strategy, by picking a lane that's not standard for a luxury brand." Beginning with the choice of Upton—a "character" who is "not so high and mighty"—and then going in a direction that is so overtly sexy, Crutchfield noted, is surprising, as the strategy is usually reserved for ad categories like entertainment or food and beverage, or even cheaper cars.
"To have an ad that would be perceived as crass? This would potentially have a negative impact," he said—especially since some statistics have shown that it's women who make at least 66% of car-purchase decisions. "The other side of it, though, is it stands out," he added. "And you want to do that."
While sexism in advertising is an old story, one reason for such a heightened reaction in this case may be the blatantly, almost old-school sexy style of the ad, according to Wheelock College sociology and women's studies professor Gail Dines.
"Panning the body like that is something that belonged in media a while ago," Dines, the co-author of Gender, Race and Class in Media: A Critical Reader, told Yahoo! Shine. "It's so clearly turning her into an object. It's a more traditional, old-fashioned sexism, one where the male gaze is clearly in charge." Sexism in ads these days, she added, is typically more nuanced, with women acting as self-objectifiers who are "internalizing the male gaze."
Dines, whose newest book is Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, likens the whole setup, execution and obvious symbolism of the Mercedes ad to a scene out of any classic adult film—which may be why it's making even some men squirm.
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