Sexist advertising is one of the predominant ways through which stereotyping has seeped into our everyday lives, imprinting itself onto products and segregating them into two rigid binaries; masculine and feminine. Be it colours (“blue is for boys, pink is for girls”), toys, clothes, and come to think of it, even food items and drinks are advertised as gendered concepts. Think about it: why does gulping down a tall mug of beer, slamming it on the table, and burping loudly radiates a conventional ‘masculine’ energy? And why does a softer, non-alcoholic drink always have a woman sensuously cradling a bottle and the beverage dripping down their body?
Sexist representations in the advertising world are not a new thing in the spirit and beverage industry. In light of the #MeToo movement, which gained momentum over the last few years, even though there has been a stricter crackdown on the kind of marketing these companies have indulged in, there is a long history of rampant sexism in marketing drinks.
In the infamous advertising of Slice, Katrina Kaif is shown sensuously caressing a bottle of mango drink; with the drink dripping down her lips as she swings in scantily-clad clothes with whispers of music echoing all around her. In the later versions of the ad, the word ‘Aamsutra’ became synonymous with the drink, a play on the word ‘Kamasutra’, making a sexual connection to the drink.
It’s interesting to note that the sexism in beverage advertisements is always in favour of men. The advertising tools employed depict the women in these ads as objectified and sexualised to equate them to the product that they are used to advertise, often having no connection or adding no value to the inherent marketing of the drink. If you compare this with most other carbonated beverage ads such as ‘Thums Up’, in which actor Ranveer Singh heroically jumps over an Egyptian pyramid to snatch a precious relic from the hands of a ‘thief’, another ad for the same brand which features actor Salman Khan jumping on and off helicopters and fast cars just to get a hold of one bottle, with a token ‘adventurous’ woman whose face we most definitely don’t remember. We subconsciously associate adventure, speed, danger, and adrenaline rushes with masculinity and naturally, when used in an advertisement for a beverage, it becomes a beverage for ‘men’.
This plays true not just for non-alcoholic drinks, but for alcoholic drinks as well. According to Drink Ripples, beer is touted as a man’s drink because that’s what beer companies wanted; with beer advertisements being synonymous with bikinis, insulting jokes, and offensive taglines who were not sensitive to the issue of sexual assault, especially the Bud Light campaign, ‘Up for Whatever’ whose slogan was ‘The perfect beer for removing “No” from your vocabulary for the night.’ The campaign was heavily criticised for its perpetuation of rape culture.
Another series of ads which became extremely popular due to the apparent humour stemming from sexism, a step ahead of ‘Boys will be Boys’, was the Seagram’s Royal Stag ad, ‘Men will be Men’. The humour used in advertising the same was reflective of the general attitude of men towards women; their wives or unknown women, the ad equivalent of sexist WhatsApp ‘husband-wife’ jokes.
Cultural and social expectations and gender roles have made their way into the type of sexist advertisements that drinking brands make, their primary targets are the men who frequent bars and pubs late, a time when women are traditionally expected to fulfil their ‘roles’ such as taking care of the household, making sure the kids (if they have any) are settled in, etc. And when they finally get done, they tend to be exhausted with the amount of work, especially if they are working women. For men, the bar and pub has been a place to let loose after work, chill with their colleagues or friends, and try to pick up women.
This is another reason why the bar is not a women-friendly space, with relentless attempts often resulting in uncomfortable and harrowing sexual harassment experiences.
Many companies try to include women in their target group, but fail miserably when they try advertising by ‘gendering’ their drinks in their sexist advertisements, repelling women from buying their products even if they might’ve been inclined to before they saw the ad. For example, Chick Beer tried advertising by integrating ‘weight-consciousness’ with beer, which does not make any sense. And these advertisements are targeted where it hits the most; unrealistic body image expectations, catering to the male gaze again. Not to mention how tea and coffee brands often lead with the assumption that women, belonging to the kitchen, are the ones making tea to help rejuvenate their husbands who return exhausted work.
Even if drink brands are trying to refurbish their image to be more inclusive of everyone and keep gender out of the equation, it is going to take years to repair the cultural and social damage that they have done. However, we are witnessing advertising agencies and brans trying to be more sensitive to the changing landscape around them and this change is glacial but active.