Prior to driving I enter an almost ritualistic trance; I pop out my side mirrors, turn on my engine, and begin my journey. The ramblings of the radio accompany me as I complete my daily errands. It is through these wavelengths that I hear the conversations of one of the Capital’s more provocative stations, LBC. The centre of discussion revolves around New Adventure Travel (NAT), a Cardiff-based transport company, and their advertisement for cheap fares.
Why then was this advert deserving of airtime on a radio talk show? On the advertisements were images of young men and women holding placards that covered their naked bodies with the writing, “Ride me all day for £3”. Fortunately, the adverts were dropped for the offence they caused.
However, what was surprising were the reactions of male callers during the radio show. The majority expressed their disapproval of what they deemed an over-sensitive reaction to the adverts and that people were only offended because they were jumping on the social media bandwagon. One caller went on to say that the adverts were just reflective of a boyish humour similar to those found in the ‘Carry On…’ films of the 60s.
So what exactly is the problem?
Advertising such as this reflects a wider phenomenon that we face in consumer driven economies. With the need to gain the attention of potential customers and attract new buyers, the maxim of ‘sex sells’ continues as the standard for modern marketing. Yet, where do we draw the line between accumulating profit and considering the social consequences of one’s advertising?
The problem with those who dismiss these adverts as boyish humour, and consequently harmless, fail to see the negative effects they have on the type of culture our society fosters. One of those negatives is the persistent commodification of the female body. Objectification of women and the hyper-sexualisation of advertising is an issue which many have discussed in regard to the sexualisation of young people. A 2009 behavioural study documented that men who viewed similar ‘soft-core’ images of women conjured ‘intentions to act on something… as if they immediately thought about how they might act on these bodies’. In short, the women in those images were associated with objects and were no longer seen as people with agency – the ability to think and act independently; something that is evident in the advert and how it uses the phrase, ‘ride me all day’ instead of ‘ride our buses all day’.
Advertising campaigns such as these raise important questions in regards to our sense of social responsibility. As these advertisements go into the public domain, advertisers need to critically assess the impact they have on the behaviour of people and not just the extent in which they will get the attention of others. It may be the case that such adverts are conjured in jest and are specifically for an adult audience. However, as these adverts are part of the public domain, they collectively influence what is deemed normal and therefore shape the expectations we have of others and ourselves. Therefore it must be asked, what type of culture arises by normalising such images to the extent they are used to advertise bus fares? And to what extent do such adverts cheapen the value of a human body and, by extension, a human being?
Perhaps the answer lies in equating men and women with the services of a bus; an object devoid of life and emotion whose sole purpose is to be ‘ridden’.