Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

A marketing disaster with an underlying message

One of Tuesday's “big stories” was actually quite a small thing, that neatly encapsulated the twin issues of everyday sexism and victim-blaming in one short dawn til mid-day saga. This is the tale of Loughborough Taxi firm, ADT, who appeared to believe that a good way to drum up business from women was through the use of a truly creepy pic hinting at the aftermath of sexual violence, while simultaneously drawing the eye of the casual observer to the near naked crotch of the supposed victim.

The message? Why, simples: use our cab service or…you might just end up like THIS! I’ve written up the story at greater length, and about as factually as I can, for the New Statesman

What I have left out is the speculation that naturally followed. Where did that picture come from? Are the individuals depicted real victims of something (in which case, how dare it further add to their grief by making no attempt to cover their faces!): or is it stage-managed? I don’t know. Nor do I much care.

Nor do I care greatly about the precise chain of blame for this event. What I understood, when talking to one source close to the incident – ADT themselves declined to talk with me - was that the proprietor of the taxi firm was “horrified” by the campaign, the work of their social media agency, and promptly fired said agency. Surely, a tweeter asked, the management of the company would have approved this campaign?

No: not necessarily. Because social media agencies don’t work like trad ad agencies. They are appointed, pitch broad themes and then more or less get on with it. There are lessons to be learnt there, and I can see myself writing something for the business press about the dangers of giving your agency too free a rein.

Still, and still again: all this is beside the point. First, because that particular account had form. I am indebted to Lorrie Hearts on twitter for highlighting a post that went up on ADT’s Facebook pages about ten days earlier. It is a picture of a woman, topless, cupping her breasts in her fingers. Beside it a caption guffaws: “That got your attention, now remember our digits”.

Allowing your media agency a long leash is one thing: letting such blatant sexism through is either irresponsibly hands off – or a tacit endorsement of what they are up to.

And if you allow that its OK to head backward in time and disrespect to a point where a woman’s body is central to an advert for no better reason than that you reckon her boobs will attract attention, you’re already on a seriously dodgy road.

But its “jus a laff”, innit? Cue further response along the lines of: “you feminazis just can’t take a joke”.. .and all points beyond. I don’t think I need to deconstruct that one much. Except to suggest that if you start from there, it becomes so much easier to think that a highly sexualised picture of possible sexual violence is OK. Or even the vicious images that became the focus for the recent #FacebookRape campaign.

But in there, too, is a massive piece of victim-blaming, victim shaming. I don’t know about other readers of this blog, but I do know that having been drawn out of my usual solitary home-working environment by three evening meetings in three distant locations over the weekend, I have also had three quite serious conversations with my hosts and myself about how safe I was getting back to station and trains.

Am I even slightly unaware of the calculation I am making? Nope. No more than, I guess, the vast majority of women. My companion at one event took a far sterner approach. She walks. She GROWLS at danger and that is her choice. Even so, she knows she is making a choice.

Which in the end is the real issue with this abysmal piece of publicity. Rooted in sexist attitudes, it would not entirely surprise me if somewhere in the dim recesses of the guys who dreamt it up, they thought they were being vaguely helpful. Cause, after all, us frail wimmin just don’t understand the risks we take every night of the week – and we need a helpful social media ad to remind us of same and, brutally, insidiously, drum home the message: if you don’t take a taxi, its YOUR fault if you get raped.

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One thought on “A marketing disaster with an underlying message

  • Kathleen says:

    I too walk most of the time. I know it can be dangerous. The taxi advert offered a message which on one level can be summed up like this: pay us money or it will be your fault if you’re raped. To which it’s possible to add: If you can’t afford a taxi, stay home – and: It’s up to you to be rich enough to afford a taxi.

    Not everyone can afford a taxi. Streets are safer if more women walk and are prepared to intervene when someone is at risk. (Men can also be helpful but, sadly, often the effect of a man intervening can be to raise the level of aggression.) In addition, as recent court cases have shown, while most taxi-drivers are fine, not all taxis are safe. If I’m at risk and have the energy to walk, I’d rather be somewhere with a chance of running away than in a stranger’s car with central locking. Luckily I live in an area with a good 24-hour bus service.

    The danger is real – and is the main thing we need to address.