Hey Lesbians! You, Too, Can Have Your Dress and Car Stolen By A Straight Lady

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.


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Ryan Yates

Ryan Yates was the NSFW Editor (2013–2018) and Literary Editor for Autostraddle.com, with bylines in Nylon, Refinery29, The Toast, Bitch, The Daily Beast, Jezebel, and elsewhere. They live in Los Angeles and also on twitter and instagram.

Ryan has written 1142 articles for us.

36 Comments

  1. I would have chuckle-snorted had it been straight too. I mean, I don’t find the ad progressive or anything, but I don’t think it’s offensive. Though I am probably not part of their audience :P

    I suppose one could argue that it ‘uses’ lesbians to get attention, but ads pretty much objectifies anything that grabs the attention.

  2. I don’t think that the plot of the commercial is suitable in ANY context, gay or straight.

    If it featured a straight couple, and the woman left with the man’s car, it would be trashed for featuring a woman using only her body to get what she wants. It would paint women as crafty, seductive gold diggers.

    I don’t think I need to elaborate on the sort of message that would be conveyed if the man left with the woman’s car…

    I’m probably an old hag, but I don’t like the idea of using sexual exchanges between individuals (of any orientation) as a means of selling products which have no direct connection to sex. I can understand if the commercial is set up to make the viewer THINK it’s going to be sexual, making fun of how sex is used to sell everything. But once you get into the actual act of sex, or the promise of sex, there’s the potential of running into issues of gender representation and sexism, which are never good things.

      • PLUS ad agencies need to be extra cautious when depicting individuals who are not often represented in the media (ie. people of colour, gay people–especially gay women). They need to make sure that they are depicting such people respectfully. No one wants their mainstream media representatives to be offensive and/or stereotypical, especially if they don’t see many.

  3. Okay you quoted Jezebel so yes, this was on Jezebel. I’m dumb.

    It’s not clear if the girl who stole the shirt owned the car or the girl who had her shirt stolen did. I’m thinking maybe the point was that the girl-who-stole-shirt did so in order to match her own car? But then why didn’t she just buy her own pink shirt?…Whatever.

    • I took it as the girl who stole the shirt owned the car to further her fashion statement, it didn’t offend me at all, I’d think the same regardless of any mix of genders they used. It wasn’t creepy or deep enough to warrent a Women’s Studies paper, it was a light, quick, easily forgotten ad.

      I’m too lazy to post twice so I also want to say I laughed a lot at roszs’ u-haul response.

  4. I’d be interested in the mainstream reaction if it were a man tying a woman up and stealing her car. Is the man a horrible person for doing it, or is it more complicated because men should be able to afford their own pricey cars, and definitely shouldn’t be out with a woman with a better car than he has? Never mind that OBVIOUSLY he should be at least having sex with the woman first, because that’s what men do.

    Gender studies sociology spewing incoherently out of my fingertips once again.

  5. Well, duh. If I had to choose between sex with a hot girl and a pink shirt that matches my car, I would TOTALLY choose the shirt. I mean, I get laid every day, but a shirt like that…it’s not like it’s in every. single. store. ever.

    • There is a mind boggling commercial here at the moment that features a woman in the shower singing about a car insurance company… and when I say singing I really mean ‘repeating the name of the car insurance multiple times in tune’. In the shower. That’s it. That is the entire ad.

      I can actually see the meeting wherein one of the ad guys said ‘Hey, so sex sells apparently. Lets just get her nude’ and the other guys all looked around, shrugged, nodded and went to get beer.

  6. YEEEEY! Real lesbians don’t exist, if you go to the bedroom with a woman she will mug you! Some quality representation there. We either don’t really exist, or we thieve.
    She doesn’t even look good in the dress.

    To be fair to them though, I follow women to their bedrooms, tie them up, steal all their shit and then run for it. Never have lesbian sex, i’m not some dirty animal!

  7. The audience of this ad is clearly straight women, so I guess maybe that’s why it doesn’t bother me. It’s not meant to turn guys on so they will buy the product, because what straight dude wants that girly-ass car? The marketing agency seems to believe straight women’s interest will be piqued by the sexual tension and then feel surprised and amused when the scenario plays out differently. I don’t think this ad shows a belief than lesbians are vulgar or offensive in anyway. And mileage may vary, but there is a lot of shit in this world that is seriously offensive to both women and/or lesbians. This ad is very low on the totem pole for me.

  8. Saw this ad ages ago and did not read any negetivity into it, over sensitive much? It’s a funny ad, end of. It could just as easily have been done with a straight couple so I was actually happy that there were lesbians. Also, who says the girl who ran off with the car was straight? Maybe she’s a classy lesbian thief.

  9. I find this ad offensive, but that’s just because I find most advertising offensive. They assume we’re all fucking idiots, and shallow and selfish to boot.

    Like Nina said upthread, the “plot” of this commercial is not appropriate in any context. This kind of behavior should not be portrayed as “cute,” “funny,” or “clever.”

  10. Hey! “Choose to read as gay”… Excuse me, she could just as easily be bisexual! Why is it that even the intelligent writers at Autostraddle frequently reinforce bi-invisibility?!

  11. “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. ”

    Which ads are we supposed to compare this to, that are supposedly positive or affirming? Underneath them all is a corporation trying to get your money, provided you fit the target demographic. Some may go about it better than others, but is a company really that representative because they throw a split second shot of a gay couple into their late night commercials?

  12. I’m a little confused. This ad was clearly aired in the Netherlands (it says Renault NL), and the man’s voice in the end has a Dutch accent. When watched in the context of Dutch advertising, and the way queer people are seen by mainstream Dutch people, I’m not sure if the arguments in this article are as valid, especially if you’re using American statistics. Now, there is definitely homophobia in NL, and other social problems, but in general, gay people tend to be much more accepted and incorporated into Dutch society than they are here. Was this ad actually shown in the US? I might be a little ignorant in this case, so please feel free to argue with me!

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