Mumsnet takes on the ad man

// 7 January 2010

An advert reading ‘Career women make bad mothers’ has been pulled following complaints from members of parenting forum Mumsnet. The advert was part of a campaign to promote outdoor advertising (as opposed to online forms), and was designed to provoke public reaction – the ads link to an online forum where you can discuss the featured question.

While the other slogans in the campaign rely on gentle, cheeky provocation (‘1966 – It won’t happen this year’ and ‘Educashun isn’t working’), the offending slogan voices a sentiment that is the basis of discrimination. It encourages the public to continue a sexist debate that should have been put to rest years ago. And that debate has real life negative consequences for thousands of women. From the guilt and inner torment all women are supposed to feel when faced with the “work/life balance” that men are somehow magically excused from worrying about, to the obstacles placed in the path of pregnant women and mothers in the workplace, the idea that working women are irresponsible parents refusing to accept their “natural” place in the world is at the heart of much of the discrimination experienced by women in the UK.

The founder of the agency behind the campaign said:

Vocalising opinion has always been a great British pastime. We want to give people another forum for voicing their innermost grievances and create a brand which truly democratises debate.

So working mothers are one of the nation’s innermost grievances? I’m not surprised the Mumsnet activists were up in arms, and good on them. Women being forced to justify their commitment to their children because they choose – or most often need – to work is a damned disgrace, not an opportunity for another bloody brand awareness campaign based around the most watered down concept of democracy imaginable.

I expect the agency responsible is delighted with the publicity; after all, it does prove that outdoor advertising can make an impact, even if it is the wrong one. Nevertheless, I think the Mumsnet members’ were right to complain: sexism shouldn’t be allowed to go unchallenged, and while our anger and objections may be exploited or laughed at now, we must believe that these kind of discriminatory stunts will one day become so unacceptable that no one would even begin to dream them up.

Comments From You

Claire // Posted 8 January 2010 at 12:15 am

Glad to see this advert withdrawn. I saw it on a bus stop earlier in the week and it made my blood boil, but I resolved not to log on as I didn’t want to increase their hits. The expression career woman is a highly biased and emotive one. Have you ever heard the expression career men? Do career men make bad fathers? Does unemployment make a parent better or worse? How silly.

Kelly // Posted 8 January 2010 at 8:53 am

I love the arguments these big ad companies give for the outright sexism – always along the lines of ‘we’re just giving the public opinion’.

When they’re enforcing it and have no real excuse. How is it their job to vocalise opinion? And why can they be so choosy in only expressing edgy sexist ones, not feminist ones – we need a forum for our opinions!

When you express any edgy opinion you’re usually being oppressive. Anti PC is just lacking responsibility, and has only ever been about that. The evasiveness in ad replies to ofcom always make you laugh.

I’d imagine most women need to work, whether they’d like to stay at home or nay.

And can I just say Hahaha at David Cameron backpeddling on his stupid sexist marriage policy?

I wish women who don’t want to live for men or some evpsych fairy tale could be left alone.

Deya // Posted 8 January 2010 at 11:00 am

“Vocalising opinion has always been a great British pastime.” Since when has stating opinion been an exclusively British “pastime” ? It is amazing how often the word “British” is put together with the words “has always been” to justify almost anything. It’s a British pastime, so let’s everyone rally round and nurture it because it is our national duty – anyone in disagreement must be unpatriotic.

Jennifer Drew // Posted 8 January 2010 at 11:38 am

Just proves once again that advertising companies are not ‘neutral’ but do in fact promote the binary division between men as diverse human beings whilst women continue to be criticised/promoted as ‘mothers/sexualised commodities.’

Excellent that Mumsnet activists were successful in shaming this advertising company. But it shows how deeply ingrained is the belief women are from venus and men are from mars.

sianmarie // Posted 8 January 2010 at 1:03 pm

thanks for posting on this, i saw the ad yesterday and was furious! i was thinking of doing some subvertising on it, if i had the equipment.

no one would dream to phrase the question another way – e.g. is it bad for children to hardly ever see their dad who is in the office all day and all night.

the other ads i’ve seen have been a bit cheeky and light hearted – such as the 1966 one, which made this one seem even worse in context.

Lianne // Posted 8 January 2010 at 4:36 pm

I’m glad someone else saw this and got mightily pissed off. It’s a shame they pulled them, I was planning on making an ‘addition’ to the ads near work with the message:

“Controversial statements make lazy advertising”

JenniferRuth // Posted 8 January 2010 at 4:57 pm

The ad campaign, unfortunately, WAS successful. They set out to prove that people pay attention to outdoor advertising and it would be hard to argue that they did not achieve that goal.

The founder of the agency saying that “We want to give people another forum for voicing their innermost grievances and create a brand which truly democratises debate.” is talking a load of crap. Zie did not care about debate – zie wanted people to follow the link so that they could show the client all the hits to the website. Best way to do it was to offend.

They wanted to offend – but as the other light-hearted quotes they chose show, they didn’t want to offend too much. And that pretty much highlights how important they think women’s issues are. Not much.

They’re probably delighted that Mumsnet picked up on this.

Well, the campaign may have worked – it got the publicity and the results. But the side-effect is that both the agency and the clients have emerged as sexist shits. I can only hope that it damages their brand.

polly // Posted 9 January 2010 at 11:14 am

What Jennifer Ruth said. Unfortunately this ad campaign HAS worked.

Kelly // Posted 9 January 2010 at 3:51 pm

It would have worked and ‘got a reaction’ if they’d said something badly racist or classist.

Point is it shouldn’t even be thought of as a good way to spark debate. They thought they could get away with it and didn’t.

polly // Posted 10 January 2010 at 9:25 am

I agree with you Kelly, but after this episode there was the inevitable ‘debate’ about whether the slogan was right or not. Stuff like this is always going to find supporters unfortunately, It’s like Nick Griffin’s question time appearance – no matter what happened the BNP was going to gain some valuable publicity out of it and did. Bringing out a ‘controversial’ ad that makes the news, is now an established technique for stretching an advertising budget.

I don’t know what the solution is here, other than completely ignoring stuff like this.

Cathy A B // Posted 10 January 2010 at 6:02 pm

I saw this advert on my way back from Jimmies a few days ago and couldn’t believe it.I haven’t been able to get to my computer for a few days and i expected it would come up here but i’m glad to see that its not just the advert that is the subject of the post but that its been pulled aswell.

Troon // Posted 11 January 2010 at 6:16 pm

I saw this on the way to work this morning, and would also want it banned on the basis os saftey, since it almost making me crash the car in indignation. I wondered all this, and also why, if they’re intent on being so wrong, they couldn’t ask the same question in equally sexist yet challenging ways, e.g. ‘do stay-at-home Mums damage their children?’

Now I’ve seen the other quotes it’s obvious why. They’re not “gentle, cheeky provocation ” they’re just nasty, taking an unacceptably stupid and unevidenced conservative and pessimistic title, claiming it’s for ‘debate’, and thus adding to the pessimistic conservatism in the world by pretending its not only a valid position, but the basic starting point for discussion. How about ‘Is this ad agency just basically nasty and prejudiced?’

Horry // Posted 12 January 2010 at 12:56 am

Like Troon, I saw the advert today, pulled or not. I knew of its existence, but was surprised how much it upset and annoyed me. Which is however not as upsetting and annoying as the fact that the people who placed the ad will consider such a reaction positive insofar as it is a response at all, and a powerful one at that. Aargh! It’s like the mid-nineties “laugh at the ironic sexism or you’re a humourless feminist” double bind all over again! Although actually, that’s quite sophisticated compared to this basic, moronic “ha! made you look!” tactic…

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