More Ad Outrage: Prowling Cougars Under Attack

We’ve looked at a number of ad campaigns here at The Notes.

In the modern cultural environment, where advertising images and viral campaigns are ubiquitous, it seems certain that advertisers will increasingly produce campaigns aimed to shock or titillate in order to gain the maximum coverage possible.

The KFC chicken ad we looked at a couple of weeks ago is, perhaps, a good example. Were the advertisers hoping some U.S. commentators would find it offensive, thus leading Australians to rally behind their product in order to protect their national character for racism charges? Perhaps not. But if that was their intent it appears to have worked extremely well for them. The ad sparked waves of comment and counter-comment across the internet, a lot of it written in the sort of knee jerk ranting so common to internet fora but it certainly put KFC in the forefront of the news for a few days. I’m sure it also solidified a number of KFC customer’s brand loyalty as they stepped in to defend crispy deep fried chicken as a matter of honour.

(You can read our post on the KFC ad here which includes a link to our YouTube post on the ad. The comments on the YouTube post can make for depressing reading!)

Today it’s been Air New Zealand’s turn. Here’s a three minute spot they are running that makes fun of Auckland’s fairly visible population of older, moneyed single women.

The spoof documentary is promoting the airline’s offer to give 60 tickets away to next month’s Wellington Sevens rugby tournament. “Cougar” women, aged 35-plus, are invited to email photos of themselves out on the town with their cougar mates. Meanwhile, a simultaneous promotion run by radio station ZM is selecting 10 young men who will also attend the match, as “meat” for the cougars.

Perhaps predictably the campaign has ruffled some feathers. It has already made the NZ papers and emigrated acorss the Tasman to the Sydney Morning Herald. According to the Sunday Star Times, the Auckland comedian and poet Penny Ashton sees the ad as sexist and painting women as predators and men as prey “incensed” her. Apparently she thinks…

Men are not helpless. Surely if you say no a couple of times it should work?

Victoria University associate professor Delores Janiewski – an expert on gender, culture and media – said the ad was “funny and cheeky” but it was hard to tell whether the ad was encouraging or denigrating single women.

I’m not entirely sure how seriously anyone should take a campaign that seems to deliberately hoping to seed exactly this type of story in the press. To me it appears to be increasingly easy to goad one commentator or another into a frenzy of indignation in the hope it may spin off into a wider audience. But perhaps I’m being cynical about media manipulation instead of looking at whether this piece is actually offensive at all.

Any thoughts?


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3 Responses

  1. There’s definitely an emergent ad strategy which acknowledges that the buzz of disapproval can be a mighty useful (and cheap) part of a campaign. As you say, it’s sometimes easy to pick the spots intended for a brief “normal” run followed by a rapid withdrawl, apology and weeks of free PR from the mouths of the indignant.

    My brother Stu calls this strategy the “Prank and Yank”

  2. As a single woman of 43, I enjoy going out on the town with my friends of a similar age, this was pretty unheard of just a generation ago. Now the Cougar label has morphed into any woman over 35 out on the town. No we are not looking for younger guys, just enjoying some hard earned down time. We have been uber responsible for years, have raised our families, progressed in our careers, and often look after our elderly parents, so why is there still disapproval of women over 35 having fun with drinks and dancing and enjoying the nitelife. Contrary to the media, older women do exist and the world is not populated by under 25 year old babes. I have a feeling that a large segment of the male population would rather have us put out to pasture and not be seen or heard. We are here, we are having fun, and we are not “Cougars”, get used to it!

    • I’m not sure there is necessarily “disapproval” of older women enjoying themselves. My take on the current media treatment dished out to “cougars” is that the media sees those kinds of stories as handy fillers that press the all important “sex” button and can sell copy or advertising time.
      I’d say the most influantial driver behind that treatment would be the enormous success of the Sex and the City franchise in terms of recognising single career women as an important demographic when it comes to purchasing power.

      That recognition can be, perhaps, the most important element of ensuring a demographic are not treated as an unacceptable other in society. Perhaps a good example of this would be the identification of the “pink dollar” in the late 1980s and the recognition that gay men had the largest disposable income of any minority group. I would claim that it was this, rather than a desire by the “majority” the media claims to represent for fairness and equality, which was the major game changer in terms of the advances the gay liberation movement made in those years.
      I agree that media treatment of older, single women can often be prurient, stereotypical and myopic but I have yet to see it tip into downright disapproval.

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