[Lucas, Scott A. “The Gender Ads Project.” Stupid | The Gender Ads Project, 2015, genderads.com/styled-8/photos-16/. ]
The original advertisement is by Tzomet Sfarim – one of the largest bookstore chains in Israel. The purpose of this advertisement is to appeal to its audience through what at first seems to be witty humour to get consumers to buy more of their books. The advertisement displays a half-open book with yellowing pages, facing downwards in a triangular position. At first it seems innocent, there are no giant slogans jumping out of the page, and there is nothing offensive about books.
However, the main message is concealed on the top left corner in tiny letters, stating that “Anyone can read”, with the bookshop’s logo underneath. With that context, the picture no longer looks like an open book with yellowing pages, but rather resembles long blonde hair. Immediately, the message of the ad transforms to become a reference to the “dumb blonde”.
The combination of the words with the image immediately form a picture of the female, long-haired, plastic, blonde Barbie doll whose presumed ambition in life is to be pretty and stylish rather than ambitious and educated. As such, by implying that ANYONE (even dumb Barbie!) can read their books, the bookstore is boasting that they cater their material to various demographics and intelligence levels. While it is unlikely that any blonde women would be attracted by this ad, a lot of men would find this to be excellent “guy-humour”.
Non-blonde women, individuals who identify as other genders, and minorities that often end up being singled out, insulted, and ridiculed for their identification and characteristics may be subconsciously relieved that the joke is not about them, and laugh along with the ad. Consequently, although the ad obviously uses offensive humour to get its point across, it is unfortunately effective in its goal to draw in customers (other than blonde women).
The purpose of the jammed advertisement is to discover the issues with the original and expose them to the audience in an unexpected manner. As such, it is important to understand the audience of the ad, and the assumptions that they would make regarding the ad’s message. In this case, the primary audience of this ad includes the demographic that has been exposed to sexist narratives and is able to recognise the double meaning of the book as a “dumb blonde”.
The audience then assumes that the “anyone” referred to in the ad is a ditzy blonde woman, and if the ‘book’ is turned around, there would be a female (Barbie-like) face looking back at them. The underlying message of the ad then is that even the dumbest individuals can read the books sold at Tzomet Sfarim.
To subvert the meaning of the ad and surprise the audience, I played with the audience’s expectations of seeing a female face behind the book. Instead of a woman, the audience now sees a profile of a long haired, proud-looking (read: pretentious) man, who would pride himself in being a highly intelligent member of society. This way, the ad is no longer ridiculing blonde women and assuming their intelligence levels, but is rather saying that these books can be read even by the most pretentious individuals in society.
As such, a character trait is being ridiculed through the jammed ad rather than a physical trait or a gender. This is less problematic, as it does not exclude any groups from being able to laugh at the joke (additionally, no one believes themselves to be pretentious, therefore it is unlikely that anyone would be offended), and the message of the ad now focuses on high intelligence rather than the ‘dumb blonde’.