Daily ad policy should be consistent

Several years ago, the University campus was the stage for what became a landmark debate about sexual exploitation. The Daily was caught in the middle of this debate and was faced with a confounding ethical question: Should the newspaper continue to accept advertisements from Sally’s Saloon and Eatery, even though the bar was shamelessly capitalizing on the sex appeal of its mascot and namesake — a mutated, squirrel-like cartoon character with shapely gams and a heaving bust?
The Sally character, whose gender is clear but whose species remains a mystery, initially appeared in ads wearing a tight, low-cut sweater that displayed her substantial cleavage. While Sally’s endowment was no doubt the envy of the animal kingdom, it was less appreciated by some women on campus whose outcry ironically led to Sally’s first cosmetic surgery.
After a breast reduction and a fashion makeover, a less bawdy, post-operatic Sally appeared and was met with tolerance, if not enthusiasm. In any event, calm was finally restored to campus.
Today’s advertising content should make us miss those Ozzie and Harriet days of yore, when a cartoon rodent’s deformities could set the campus atwitter.
An advertising insert in the Nov. 18 issue of the Daily illustrates just how far the boundaries have been pushed. The insert was for a new brand of chewing tobacco called Rooster — a product name that rivals Hooters in its lack of subtlety. The fact that Rooster is “long cut” tobacco and that the canister declares “It Lasts” makes clear the company’s intent: to appeal to that ever-abundant cohort of young men who want their own roosters to be “bolder, smoother and bigger,” just like their chew.
The Rooster insert was filled with these laughable double-entendres. Its main purpose, however, was to announce a contest in which readers were given the chance to go where only bold men dare — to the Playboy mansion to meet and mingle with a “Playmate of your choice.” Below a full-color photo of four women in bikinis, the ad said, “Choose which one of these Playmates you want to escort you around the Playboy Mansion.”
Careful not to mislead its readers, Rooster added a barely perceptible disclaimer that said — I kid you not — “Playmates subject to availability.”
The Rooster ad was so sophomoric and its sexual appeals so thinly veiled that it bordered on self-parody. Its offensiveness was tempered by its absurdity. Still, it managed to upset some readers, partly because of its demeaning treatment of women, and partly because of the dangerous nature of the product it promoted.
So should the Daily have accepted this ad? The Daily’s advertising acceptance policy contains two relevant provisions — one dealing with tobacco advertising and one dealing with sexual depictions.
The guidelines regarding tobacco advertising simply point out that all tobacco ads must conform to state and federal law, but that the Daily is not responsible for ensuring that these requirements are met. The Rooster insert does not appear to have violated any law. We can debate another time whether the Daily should print tobacco advertising at all, but in this instance, the Daily staff did not violate the tobacco portion of its policy.
The Rooster ad was inconsistent, however, with the Daily’s guidelines regarding sexually demeaning depictions of people. Actually, these types of ads are now common in the Daily. The recent practice has been to allow these types of ads to run, as long as they appear only in the Arts and Entertainment section of the paper.
Under the Daily’s Erotic Imagery Guidelines, there are four types of prohibited content, none of which were at issue here: (1) the display of breasts or genitals; (2) pornographic poses; (3) explicit sexual references; and (4) use of minors or anyone appearing under 18.
In addition to these prohibitions, however, the Daily staff and its advertisers are encouraged to consider a number of questions, which are adapted from the National Organization for Women’s Guidelines for Advertising. Among the 12 questions:
ù Do the women portrayed serve as sexual orientation for a product rather than as intelligent spokeswomen?
ù Are women shown in positions or stances subordinate or subservient to men?
ù Are women limited to traditional, stereotypical roles?
Yes, yes and yes. The women in the Rooster tobacco ad were certainly used to add a sexual dimension to the product and to suggest a link between Rooster tobacco and men’s sexual pleasure and performance.
The women are also shown in blatantly subservient positions. Remember, they are the prize in the Rooster contest — subject to availability, of course.
And the women are also clearly presented in stereotypical roles — as horny sex kittens, eager to please — provided you have the length and stamina of a “Rooster man.”
Another question posed in the guidelines is whether the women are portrayed by body parts rather than as complete people. This was not the case with the Rooster ad, but it is true of many of the adult entertainment ads that routinely appear in the Daily. One typical DÇjÖ Vu ad from Nov. 18, for example, shows a woman lying down, pictured from her knees to just above her crotch, with her white bikini bottom peaking out from between her legs.
The decision to start accepting these ads was admittedly made for commercial reasons. Business Manager Marty Brown says the Daily needed to start accepting them in order to stay competitive with City Pages, Pulse, Skyway News and other local publications that publish adult entertainment ads.
Brown says this is not a problem, however, because the ads are exiled to the A & E section, which is a more open and explicit forum. A & E readers are less likely to take offense. There are three problems with Brown’s explanation.
First, because the Rooster ad was an insert, it was not really attached to a specific section of the paper. Inserts inevitably fall loose from the paper when it is opened and read.
Second, it assumes that A & E readers have a higher tolerance for both sexually explicit and sexually demeaning ads. This is unlikely, particularly with the latter.
Third, it assumes that the purpose of the NOW guidelines is to prevent people from being offended. In fact, these guidelines are rooted in the belief that sexually demeaning depictions are not merely offensive, but also harmful. NOW leaders would no doubt argue that these images are part of a social system that denigrates women’s roles and perpetuates inequality.
If the Daily does not accept this rationale, it should make that clear. If it does accept this rationale, then its policy should be uniform throughout the paper. While it might make sense to say that A & E readers have a higher tolerance for offensive content, such as the use of profanity, it does not make sense to say that a certain type of content is harmful in one section and innocuous in the others.
None of this is meant to suggest that the Daily’s policy is necessarily wrong. But it does need a clearer rationale and a more consistent application.
Erik Ugland is the Daily’s Readers’ Representative. He welcomes comments about his column or the Daily at [email protected]