Was this SAFRA ad sexist?

SAFRA has copped some flak for an ad it placed on some OOH bus shelters. The ad has come under attack on social media for sexually objectifying women.

The ad depicts a woman at the gym working out being ogled by two men behind her also working out and runs with the headline: “A great workout, good friends and some healthy distractions”.

One netizen, named Cindy Ng posted on SAFRA’s Facebook page that the ad is “outright distasteful, completely disrespectful to women and borders on condoning sexual harassment”. She also questioned if this was really “the best marketing strategy” SAFRA could come up with to increase its gym memberships”.

SAFRA, in its attempt to salvage the situation however, might have angered netizens more. Responding to Ng on Facebook, it said:

“We are glad that you saw our advert in the Thompson area. SAFRA has come up with a series of adverts to showcase some bonding moments among our NSmen while having a tongue in cheek approach to life experiences. Be it in the gym or anywhere else, it is not uncommon for some women to be checked out by men or vice versa.

The ad is not aimed to devalue women and neither does SAFRA condone it. We certainly believe in equality of the both sexes. Thanks for sharing your feedback with us about this advert and we will be more mindful in future. We hope to see you at our clubs with your family soon. Have a great weekend!”

When contacted by Marketing, a SAFRA spokesperson said it will not be reshooting the ad or pulling it down. The ad was created by creative agency Xodbox. The ad is part of a series in SAFRA’s most recent campaign that began in January to encourage NSmen to remember the friendships forged during National Service and to create new memories together.The series of ads will run island-wide until the end of March when the campaign is slated to end.

"Apart from the ad depicting two NSmen stealing an admiring glance at a lady while working out at the gym, the series also features other humorous moments such as NSmen re-enacting the famous water parade scene while having drinks and a playful ball-fight between a father and his kids [...]," he said.

Here's how the campaign looks:

[gallery link="file" ids="40810,40801,40802,40803,40804,40805,40806,40807,40798,40808"]

Meanwhile Women’s activist group AWARE has criticised SAFRA though an open letter. The letter said the ad contributes to the “unwanted leering, leading to offensive remarks and/or sexual harassment or even assault […]that women are much more likely to experience from men.”

“You’ve suggested the ad is about 'bonding moments' among men.  But men don’t need to make women feel threatened and uncomfortable to bond – we think better of men than that,” Jolene Tan, programmes and communications senior manager, AWARE added.

Agency folks weigh in

Jim Goh, founder of creative agency Briq told Marketing that such tongue-in-cheek ads, that appear to involve sexism in particular, will always draw points from both sides.

“If done tastefully, humorous ads may just put smiles on people’s faces.  In this case, it didn’t. To me, it is not a likeable ad. From creative standpoint, there is nothing really creative about this ad – the dry humour, art direction and execution fall short of expectations,” Goh said.

However, he did give SAFRA thumbs up for trying to be creative but added maybe there is a better execution to communicate its brand proposition.

Meanwhile Lee Kai Xin, interactive director for Wild Advertising & Marketing felt that the ad has undoubtedly objectified women.

"The irony is that this controversy erupted on the eve of International Women’s Day. After more than 100 years of struggle to gain equal rights, women are still sadly being stereotyped as pretty “vases” for men to admire," she added.

Only six months ago, in an attempt to lure women into the Army, the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) also made a similar move and was labeled sexist when it advertised for the Army Women’s Seminar 2013. Direct mailers were sent out which came complete with a fake mirror and eye-shadow palette. The envelope said: Discover shades of green that bring out the best in you.