Hot secretary get-up in Gillette commercial

This body wash commercial from Gillette bugs me for a very subtle reason:

For those who don’t want to wait for the video to load, it features a man showering with this product, then going into the office. As he walks into a boardroom with mostly women sitting around the table, something starts bothering me, even though you’d expect “Boardroom! Mostly women!” to be a positive representation of women. The voiceover says he’ll now feel he’s ready to “take on the world” just as we cut to a closeup of one of the women looking coyly up at him. Here’s a screenshot:

Check out the girlish cap sleeves, the upswept hair. Can’t you just see her standing up, closing her eyes all sultry, pulling one pin from her hair to release the whole swirling mass, complaining how warm it is and starting to undress? That’s exactly what they’re trying to evoke. And all the women around the table are dressed the same, complete with short skirts and black sheer stockings that are completely out of fashion at the moment.These women around the boardroom table are not powerful with a voice. They are “hot secretaries” from Playboy spreads and 1960’s Girl Friday movies. They’re softened and rendered childlike so Mr. Man can summon up a semblance of security for his fragile ego. Believe me, nothing Gillette puts out will reassure the insecure male half as much as a pliant girly-woman. She is the world Mr. Man feels like he’s ready to take on: a smaller, weaker country greeting its future conqueror in unworldly friendship, with no idea what she’s getting into.

You might be tempted to argue the message is a fatuous but not especially gendered “People will want you sexually if you use this product.” But there’s clearly another layer here. Like the Axe commercials we’ve critiqued (here and here), the message is “Women will be rendered helpless prey to your sexual predation – enjoy!” It’s not about appealing to women; it’s about conquering us.

And why has Gillette chosen this? Either insecure men are the market they want buying the product or they’re concerned a moisturizing body wash might be perceived as Not 100% Heterosexual so they’re overcompensating by invoking heterosexual stereotypes from 40+ years ago.


  1. Dom Camus says

    Further to your comments:

    1) “Boardroom, mostly women” is not necessarily a positive image if the one man in the room is in charge (as our protagonist appears to be from the brief impression we’re given).

    2) It’s hard to be sure, but the other men at the table look older to me. So there’s this implication that men belong at this table if they’re experienced (or wearing magic bodywash) whereas women belong there by virtue of being young and cute.

    OK, so I’m reading a lot into a small amount of footage, but impressions count, right?

  2. says

    Both your points are absolutely true, too.

    We are arguably “reading a lot into” it, but that is the point of commercials. They’re so short, and they have to pack every message that the client wants and speak to the audience the client wants buying its product. Ad agencies pore over every second, every image, every shot and how it’s framed to make sure they’re putting across what they mean to.

    And apparently, what they mean to put across is that their product is for men who are so fragile they can’t normally handle even profoundly non-threatening women. I think I’d be insulted if I were a guy.

  3. says

    These sorts of ads always remind me of the argument of “Well, sex sells! What can you expect?”

    Apparently “Sex sells” means “women in sexy poses sells”, and not “men being all sexxed up” sells.

    I’m assured this is because advertising is supposed to appeal to women.

  4. says

    Also, I notice that bodywash commercials for women are all about “nourishing” your skin with “lush botanicals,” [cue images of silk, sunshine, waterfalls, whatever] this one is telling guys to “unleash the power of your shower” [slam] by using “a powerful defense” [bam] to “defeat dry skin.” [Thank you ma’am.] It would be sad if it wasn’t so laughably transparent.

    But this equating Dry Skin with The World with Women definitely bugs me. The message ultimately seems to be, “Hey! You can defeat dry skin [a nagging but minor annoyance]–a roomful of women is no big deal!” I didn’t think I would ever find anything creepier than an Axe commercial, but this might be it.

    Anna–I don’t really find men or male bodies attractive? This is news to me, and I’m sure it will be for my boyfriend too.

  5. sbg says

    I was all for this commercial (hello, man with nice body in shower…) until that bit where they say he’s ready to conquer the world and cue the pretty girl looking up at him coyly.

    Ugh. Apparently conquering the world really means getting the women.

  6. SunlessNick says

    “Women will be rendered helpless prey to your sexual predation – enjoy!”

    Predation is right: the way women are portrayed in this type of ad doesn’t evoke attraction as much as drugging.

  7. says

    Did the same thing as what? Invoked the stereotype?

    What would you have suggested for a title? In the amount of words a title can accommodate, it’s sometimes hard to name a stereotype without invoking it.

    To that end, I don’t exactly regret that we’ve gotten a fair amount of commenters who appear to have been looking for something sexxxay and instead found this article. 😉

  8. Hyperphonics says

    I’m so glad to see that I’m not the only one annoyed by what I see in commercials lol Don’t get me started on all of the issues I have with the new Dove shampoo and conditioner campaign directed at “moms” or my favorite – a Clorox bleach commercial with the wonderful voiceover…

    Laundry’s not new. Your mother, your grandmother, her mother, they all did the laundry. (pause) MAYYYYbe even a man or two…

    Know what that commercial said to me? Women are supposed to do the laundry and that’s all that women were ever supposed to do. It’s POSSIBLE for a man to do the laundry, but not really the “norm”.

    Commercials suck.

  9. Ricky! says

    I’m aware of the topic here but a lil off subject.. Who IS that girl in the white top with that seductive look in the snapshot above??? =)

  10. Red says

    I seriously doubt that the creators of this commercial thought any of the things you read into it. Their real thought process probably went something like this:

    “Ok, this product is for men… what do men like?”
    “Men like hot women.”
    “Good thinking, let’s put some hot women in there.”

    The End.

  11. says

    You obviously know nothing about how major advertising campaigns come together. The lack of thought process you described simply does not happen when someone’s spending 6 figures on a 30 second spot. Every frame needs to suit.

    Furthermore, there are a million ways to put “hot women” in an ad. They most certainly thought of the precise way they wanted to do it, and what the clothing and lighting and hairdos and makeup and everything would contribute and put across.

  12. Jeffrey says

    I saw this ad and immediately thought of my all female staff. They are an incredible team of highly intelligent women.

    And if I showed it to them they would fall on the floor laughing at the thought of looking up at me coyly. In fact, I would show it to them for the humor if HR wouldn’t scream.

    All that being said, the commercial is effective for the target audience of younger men (not me), that are willing to use body products (not me), who want to feel better about their ability to impress women (vast majority of heterosexual males).

  13. says

    More to the point, it’s effective for profoundly insecure males who can’t imagine a woman of any quality would find them worthy of attention without a lot of outside assistance. And I’d say *that* describes the vast majority of heterosexual males. I’m not being mean – our culture breeds both genders to be highly insecure because insecure people do what they’re told.

  14. Chuck says

    I just clicked on your discussion guidelines:

    “Don’t characterize groups by traits. (Example: “Men are superficial” or “Feminists are bitter.”)”

    Perhaps I misunderstand, but you write in your reply: “And I say *that* describes the vast majority of heterosexual males”. Please tell me that you didn’t mean *that* to mean that the vast majority of males are “profoundly insecure”.

  15. says

    Chuck, what I actually said was “profoundly insecure males who can’t imagine a woman of any quality would find them worthy of attention without a lot of outside assistance.” I think that does describe far too many heterosexual men, because of damage that’s been done to them by our warped society in which:

    –Insecurity in women is talked about, written about, made into TV movies, but the only form of male insecurity that gets attention is that Chauvinist Pig guy on sitcoms who hits on every woman in a sexist fashion. This prevents men from having a much needed dialog about the various insecurities they are (understandably) feeling.
    –Ditto on low self-esteem. Tons of men, especially young ones, suffer from it, but don’t even realize it in most cases. Hard to fix something you don’t realize is broken.
    –Because our society ideals for each gender are so warped and unrealistic, a lot of truly decent men see their sex as beastly, while a lot of beasts see themselves as Nice Guys. It’s a huge problem for the women who have to deal with confused men, but it’s certainly not healthy for men, either.

    I was also relying on the context of a pop culture in which the insecurity of women is exaggerated grossly in an attempt to differentiate us from big, strong, secure, admirable men. I meant to remind everybody that men are insecure just as often as women are, and often about exactly the same things.

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