Unilever goes postal on redheads

Redheads (or should I say “rangas”?) are not faring well in Australia these days.  Back in April, this soup ad for Continental, a subsidiary of Unilever, invited viewers to ridicule a character called Ginger Ninja, as well other characters deemed strange-looking (short, bald, glasses, big ears).

The Australian Advertising Standards Board found the ad “humorous”.

I find that I have lost my enthusiasm for Unilever’s products.

    Personal care products:

  • Dove
  • Impulse
  • Lifebuoy
  • Lux
  • Lynx
  • Pears
  • Rexona
  • SunSilk
  • Vaseline
  • Home care products:

  • Domestos
  • Drive
  • Jif
  • Omo
  • Persil
  • Surf
  • Food Products:

  • Bertolli
  • Bushells
  • Choysa
  • Continental
  • Flora pro-activ
  • Flora
  • Lanchoo
  • Lipton
  • Raguletto
  • Streets

Lipton Tea!!!

They make Lipton tea. Imagine if all the people who like redheads stopped drinking Lipton tea.


If that wasn’t bad enough, there is also an anti-redhead public safety message that, while it’s hard to figure out exactly who was responsible for it, appears to have been sponsored by the Australian government.  This “red head gets its wings” ad features a particularly robotic and malevolent redhead.

The board’s conclusion? “…they would be considered by most people not to be a serious suggestion that red headed people are undesirable.”  It is not clear whether in this context, “redheads” are considered to be a subset of “people”.

Comments disabled, huh.


5 Responses to “Unilever goes postal on redheads”

  1. Noetica Says:

    Well, some redheads are thriving in Australia. We have a shiny new red-haired prime minister: our first woman in that role, Julia Gillard.

    Julia is a natural redhead, though she frequently alters the exact shade by a cunning artifice of chemistry. (Who can object to such innocent indulgence? I for one will not be casting any stone, let alone the first.)

    Julia is unmarried (she has a male life-partner), and without children. She is also a declared atheist. Let this serve as an example for our cousins in the Land of the Free: mouthing public pieties may not be a prerequisite for political acceptability; nor may the stock-standard variety of familiality be de rigueur.

    Generally though, many redheads do suffer mindless stigmatisation. The effects can be profound, and can take decades to undo. We have a lot to learn about these unpopular prejudices – these causes obscures, as we might call them. Another is the extremely blatant humiliation of men in advertisements and the media generally, to which most people are blind or utterly inured.

    So spare a thought for the red-haired menfolk, gentle reader (those that are not chick-magnets in virtue of their physical rarity and sheer adversity-tempered brilliance, I mean …).

  2. Nijma Says:

    …and modesty? :)

    Congrats on your new PM. I expect her to straighten out the world in time, but short term at least she will straighten out this redhead business.

    Here the problem is with blonde jokes — they’re mostly reworked Jesse Jackson jokes, since joking about blacks being stupid is no longer politically correct, if it ever was. I suppose we should try the Australian solution and get a blonde president.

  3. Nijma Says:

    Noetica, this has snagged in my subconscious and finally floated to the surface after some passage in time:

    Another is the extremely blatant humiliation of men in advertisements and the media generally, to which most people are blind or utterly inured.

    I would be curious as to the Ozzie, (or noetic) view of undesirable media portrayal of men.

  4. Noetica Says:

    From the huge range of cases that could be adduced of divergent portrayals of men and women in the media, let’s take an extreme pair involving bestiality (!). Consider first a famous Australian advertisement for Antz Pantz (a brand of women’s underwear, from the company Holeproof). You can find variants of the ad all other YouTube, some attracting general comments about its sexual implications, and some explicit comments on its portrayal of bestiality. Indeed, in this particular version, the women utter subdued gasps of delight that we can only reasonably interpret as sexual.

    Complaints were made, predictably enough, to Australia’s Advertising Standards Bureau about this version. Predictably enough, the Bureau dismissed these complaints, and all complaints about the other versions. To have any chance of success with the Bureau you need to prove that an ad proposes a return to the Third Reich, compulsory conscription for octogenarians, and the summary execution of shoplifters. Here are all of the Bureau’s selected comments from complainants, in the final report of its decision on this version:

    “The internet bombards us with images of bestiality and now TV advertisers are sliding down that slippery slope.”
    “I find this advertisement offensive because it implies that the women are actively seeking and enjoying sexual interactions (cunnilingus) with an animal.”
    “While it is a very clever advertisement, I have young children in the house and I really don’t think that its appropriate for them to learn about oral sex in this manner and certainly do not find it funny trying to explain the ad to them.”
    “My fellow female colleagues at work share my opinion and found that this commercial is demeaning and degrading for women. I think using an Australian mammal to sexually satisfy women is even degrading to the echidna as an endangered species.”
    “How can our kids be subjected to such revolting garbage? The lives of modern children are already difficult enough. They have so many strikes against them.”

    So women, children, and monotremata are mentioned as potential victims (not ants, I observe). The only male in the vicinity is, of course, Rex the echidna. But hold that thought, and cut to the second of our bestiality ads. I cannot show it, because I do not find it on YouTube or anywhere else; but I will describe it to the best of my recollection. It is a Cougar Bourbon ad.

    A young man walks alone on a country track, and finds a cow standing in his way, across the track. He stops abruptly, thinks a moment, and then tentatively prods the cow. The cow tumbles chaotically down the side of the road, and across the fields, leaving the young man in his bewilderment. Later, he is sharing a drink with friends; clearly he has just reported the incident, and his friends are all laughing at it and him. A voice-over comments: “It never happened, till you tell your mates.” Then this question is overheard (though I have never seen it remarked upon, let alone complained about): “What, are the women saying no to you, mate?”

    Now, a complaint was made to the bureau concerning cruelty to an animal in this ad, but nothing was mentioned about the sexual suggestiveness. Indeed, it would be hard to spot: if not for that question at the end, and the background information that the way to test that a cow is ready for the bull is to push against it gently, and see that it does not draw away. The advertiser is reported, by the Bureau, as responding that the ad was based harmlessly on an “urban myth”, though it does not give the content of the myth in question. (See, by the way, arguably more innocent accounts of the cow-tipping myth. All a bit perplexing, I admit.)

    So where does all that leave us? My own reading: The women in Antz Pantz are not necessarily victimised at all; they are sexual adventurers, exploiting the available male “beast” for their own lustful purposes. They are depicted as successful in this, and attractive, confident, even enviable (see YouTube responses) in their freedom and unquestioned authority (“Sic ’em, Rex.” The command “sic ’em” is an order one would give a sheepdog or similar servile animal in one’s control, meaning “Go get ’em.”) The young man in the Cougar ad, on the other hand, is depicted as lonely, probably lost, wandering away from any home he may have, making a tentative and ambiguous sexual approach to an animal; and that approach ends not in success but in abject humiliation, and the dreadful realisation that he is responsible for hurting an innocent female animal. We are left at the end with the thought that “women say no to him”, and this pathetic commercial message: your answer, lonely and culpable young man, is to be found in drinking hard liquor with your “friends”. And all of that is supposed to be funny! If the sexual content had been anything other than almost subliminal, there would be howls about the infamous suggestion of potential bestiality of a man with a cow, and these howls would probably result in a rare successful complaint to the Bureau.

    That’s a long story. But it shows the hidden subtleties that go undiscussed in public discourse concerning how women and men are portrayed, at least in Australia. There are far more obvious examples we could look at; but it’s the insidious and undetected ones that do most damage.

    What damage? I don’t go so far as to claim that there is a link between the general matter of how men and women are treated differently in the media and recent events that are close to home, for me; but just two days ago a nephew of mine – a troubled young man in his twenties – was lost to us through suicide. I do wonder about the world he inhabited, as he saw it through the ubiquitous lens of modern media at the service of relentless, heartless, commercial exploitation.

    How we deal with our young people is a serious matter; both young women and young men (old too!) are vulnerable and in need of our understanding and careful respect. We should not take for granted that all are treated equally. Unequal laws, favouring the care of women in Australian Social Security provisions, refugee arrangements, and other departments of public policy, are still entrenched and seldom questioned. Much more could and should be said; but I have said all that I wanted to say this time, and probably more.

  5. Nijma Says:

    Oh, Noetica, I’m so sorry about your nephew. I don’t understand how these things happen, but I suspect as you do, based on slim clues about several suicides in my extended family, that social expectations about gender play some part. Of course from a Mental Health Services standpoint, one does everything possible to prevent a suicide–our motto was “not on my shift”, but last summer when I visited a bridge in Minneapolis known for suicides, and remarked that no preventative barriers had been put on the bridge, as some cities do, my old college buddy thought that was just fine. Some people are just born with intolerable lives–chemical imbalances–and things will never be right for them, he said. That’s Minneapolis for you, no meddling, no intruding into people’s private business.

    While I have heard the bestiality meme before, not here, but in London to describe antipodean men who are insecure around women, (“New Zealand–where the men are men and the sheep are scared”), I think your underwear ads are something different. They remind me of a languagehat thread where the subject of tentacle erotica came up (JE was reading Victor Hugo’s Les Travailleurs de la mer). The tentacled creatures are not beasts at all but are metaphors for something that could not be written about without censorship. In the case of the Japanese tentacle flicks for (I presume) adolescents, following Hat’s advice to “google tentacle erotica if you dare”, I read review after review describing cartoons with “good tentacle action”, before I figured out it was a way around censorship that prohibited portrayals of women being touched.
    Think of it. Antz Pantz wants to sell underwear and the buyers are women. Now, everyone wants attractive underwear, but no one wants underwear that will attract the wrong kind of person, a predator. I wouldn’t say Rex the echidna is exactly male, he could be anything, maybe even droid. Rex’s noises are certainly cartoonish, like R2D2. I suppose you could interpret the “sic em, Rex” line as a command given to a doglike creature, but it is also obvious that Rex is really into the ant thing, but also knows when to respect boundaries. In all cases Rex is eager but waits until the invitation is certain: “come and get it”… “hello”…. Whether sex should be recreational or whether it should mean something is a completely difference issue; in the commercials, the ant-eating action is totally mutual and consensual. Also I think it is meant to be funny rather than sexy– more on the order of slumber parties and ghost stories. I suppose Rex is not being sought out because of his great intellectual capacities–in a way he is a bit of a bimbo–but if you set out to sell underwear only to intellectuals, you will sell a lot less underwear. [Also I admit I enjoyed the payback aspect of the role reversal way more than I should have.]

    The Cougar ads are more sinister. They play on guys who are insecure with the opposite sex. “If you don’t tell your mates about it, it didn’t happen.” The “mates” are the primary relationship, and any interaction with the opposite sex is just to gain approval from the “mates”. There’s this one where he orders a bourbon with lemon so he can check out the bartenders cleavage, to the approval of his mates, and the bourbon industry which encourages him to “play” women. Of course she’s playing him as well, for tips. Placing sexuality (unlike friendship) firmly in the products category.

    Years ago when religion was stronger, its message provided a balance to commercialism, and an alternative reality, however weakly embraced. Now it appears there is only one message, the corporate one.

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