Our Creative Director & CSO recently took the opportunity to reread key sections of David Ogilvy’s classic Ogilvy On Advertising, and so it could be said that he was primed for the scandal that is the talk of the London startup bubble: WeSwap.com‘s summer 2015 publicity campaign. The two most striking commercial messages of the blitz – which have been on display in London Underground carriages – respectively feature a fictitious Swedish supermodel and a real model outfitted in the ‘French maid’ working dress typical of female domestic servants in nineteenth century France. Both adverts are accompanied by slogans which play on the desirability and inaccessibility of the ladies pictured, and contrast these modalities with WeSwap.com’s realistic and realisable value proposition.
The (social) media response to these advertisements has been little short of a lynching: accusations of antediluvian sexism and objectification abounded, and WeSwap.com – after initially defending the messages as ‘eye-catching’ and ‘energetic’ – effectively disowned them and unveiled a new (and much less eye-catching) campaign.
But after some contemplation, we at Mediolana remain unsatisfied by the entire affair. Objectively speaking, the commercials are undeniably naff; it is safe to say that this company would not have seriously considered running them. But naff (and even downright weird) is not the same as evil. There are countless advertising campaigns which grossly objectify and degrade women in a way that the WeSwap.com ads simply do not; in the world beyond persuasive commercial messages, pornography, domestic violence and gendercide are far bigger issues that have not generated anything like a reaction proportionate to that received by a mere social currency website.
WeSwap.com’s biggest crime may have been to touch a raw nerve: despite plenty of sobering evidence to the contrary, we like to think that we are sophisticated, egalitarian, cool and postmodern, so anything that reminds us of our former selves – such as an advertisement which arguably echoes some 1970s sensibilities, whatever those may be – acts like a lightning rod to our present collective sense of self and all its attendant insecurities.