The ad is for a new Renault Twingo, but instead of showing shots of the actual car as it drives along a test track somewhere to modern yet quirky music, it features a woman tying another woman up so she can steal her shirt and car.
[Transcription: Two women exchanges glances at a party. One (wearing pink) leaves and goes into a back bedroom. The other follows her into the room and sees her take her shirt and pants off and lounge on the bed. The second woman, still clothed, straddles and blindfolds her before looking around and seeing the pink shirt on the floor. She gets off the bed, changes into it, and leaves, walking up to a car outside. The woman on the bed sits up and takes off her blindfold. The woman who took her shirt drives off in her car.]
A spokesperson for Publicis, the Milan agency behind the ad, defended it by saying, “We wanted to create an advert that was original, enjoyable and at the same time not vulgar, and I believe we have achieved that. What is clever is that you think the advert is going one way but in the end it goes another — it’s great, don’t you think?”
So great. I know I, for one, enjoy being told that my sexuality is vulgar by some ad agency that couldn’t even bother with being original (the ad is remarkably similar to a Reuveni-Pridan ad for Castro dresses from 2006, which similarly features: two women meeting at a party and going into a bedroom, partial undressing, one girl blindfolding the other and leaving in the other’s clothing. When shown the similarities, the agency behind that ad said they were “flattered.”) Or, as Jezebel paraphrases it, “We wanted to show that lesbians are just like straight girls — in that they only care about cars and clothes and not about sex because, well, that’s just vulgar!”
Enter the debate about whether all forms of representation are good forms of representation. Or whether ads like these can count as “representation” at all.
On one hand, it’s good that lesbians are being included in advertising. We’re in ads, we have ads aimed at us, we make 6% more than straight people when all other factors are controlled for and companies are starting to notice, we are a force in the market. If being targeted or being shown kissing with conventionally fantastic hair is a form of recognition, we are being recognized.
But ads like this aren’t really recognizing anything beyond the fact that a heterosexual audience often finds the idea of gay ladies, particularly feminine-looking ones, titillating, and that maybe by showing that, they can get more attention. The two women don’t even touch for more than a few seconds, and don’t kiss, and the ad was banned on Italian TV in December.
Ads like this aren’t positive, affirming, or actually representative. They’re not about really about lesbians at all — they’re about cars and clothes and how to get people to buy them. Is it cool that the ads feature a sexually-charged exchange between two women (one of whom I’m choosing to read as gay, and one of whom I’m choosing to read as a jerk) while also targeting (what seems like) a heterosexual female audience? Yeah, it is. But it’s also a little annoying. At least it makes more sense than this beer ad, which starts off looking like a car ad, and then a hotel ad, and then a lingerie ad, and then has 29 seconds of girls kissing before actually showing the product (for three seconds).
And yet, trashing these ads completely feels a little trashy. Even though they do a lot of exploiting of a perceived lesbian identity to sell things, they actually hint at that identity, whereas a heterosexual couple making out to sell a car doesn’t. The only question is whether that hint ultimately makes that identity less or more invisible.