Mad Men's Portrayal of Sexism Seeps Unironically into its Commercial Breaks

Did anyone else notice the bizarre sexism during the commercial breaks on last night’s episode of Mad Men? I can accept that a healthy dose of douchiness comes with the territory when I decide to watch currently airing episodes of a show instead of waiting for it to come out on DVD, but I honestly felt creeped out by how skewed all of last night’s ads were toward a male (and sexist) audience. Could it be that, because the show itself portrays a stylized hypermasculinity, advertisers are missing the context and coming up with campaigns to try and match Mad Men’s outdated sexism?

I saw ads for (and this is just what I can remember): Lipitor, Viagra, NFL Sunday Ticket, and more, all aimed at middle-aged men who I didn’t think were following Peggy Olsen’s rise to the top all that closely. Oh, and let us not forget this gem, from Clorox:

Because, you know, sometimes even MEN do the laundry! And Clorox apparently dragged that ad out of its archives (here is a Feministing post on it from two years ago) just for Mad Men. WTF?

The people watching the show with me remarked on the male-centric nature of the ads as well, so I don’t think this is me being a lone crazy feminist wondering why in the hell AMC morphed into SpikeTV for an hour on Sunday night. Of course I thought of Michelle’s post from the other week about how some of the subtleties of Mad Men may be lost on certain less-than-critically-thinking viewers. Is this true for the advertisers as well? Shouldn’t they be a little more on top of their game in realizing that this is a television show about a (thankfully) bygone era and that the men-are-men-and-women-are-property attitude is not one we’re yearning to bring back?

Also, did I miss something here, or do middle-aged straight men seem like a weird demographic for this show to be targeting with its ads? I know that Mad Men is wildly popular and appeals to many people, and I know that it has been marketed as superdupermanly (did anyone else catch the Playboy premiere promo?) but I am still surprised that they seem to be going for the football loving, erectile-dysfunction having, high cholesterol male set. What would Peggy Olsen say about the lack of concern for women viewers?

So what exactly is going on here? Do you think that this advertising is a savvy move to cater to the men who watch Mad Men? Or do you think it is evidence of a gross lack of understanding by advertisers who are merely thinking that a sexist show should have sexist commercial breaks? Has Mad Men been hijacked by the very people it critiques (misogynists in the advertising world)? Because if that’s the case, I am going to need more than a couple of Don Draper’s old fashioneds to stomach next week’s episode.

by Kelsey Wallace
View profile »

Kelsey Wallace is an editor in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter if you like TV and pictures of dogs.

Get Bitch Media's top 9 reads of the week delivered to your inbox every Saturday morning! Sign up for the Weekly Reader:

15 Comments Have Been Posted

Arguably, the Lipitor and

Arguably, the Lipitor and Viagra commercials may in fact be aimed at women - so that they suggest said products on the men in their lives. It wouldn't be the first time men's products were marketed to women with the expectation that they'd talk to their boyfriends/husbands/partners/significant-whatevers about them.

Maybe even a man or two!

It was crazy. The Clorox ad alone just leaves me speechless.

The larger advertising landscape definitely seemed to subtly suggest to male viewers, "Hey, Mad Men 'gets it' and so do we." You would think that the inclusion of a blackface routine in this week's episode would make it clear that the show is NOT trying to suggest these were better, simpler times. I'm not saying that a world-worn Charlie Sheen talking about portable man screens is the same thing as the misogyny portrayed in the show... but damn it if something just didn't sit right!

Trying to conjure a false sense of nostalgia in Mad Men viewers makes sense from an advertising standpoint. However, it would be far less disturbing if it didn't feel so much like a quiet modern yearning for my mother... and her mother... and her mother... to finish up the fucking laundry and be happy about it. The men will let you know when their boners are ready-- SSH! The game's on!

You know what, though?

You know what, though? Whenever I watch <i>The Price is Right</i>, they have commercials geared towards the elderly community. Comedy Central and Spike TV constantly run ads for Girls Gone Wild. For some reason, the TV execs who sell ad space still don't get it that a lot of women watch these channels and shows like <i>Mad Men</i>. And don't even get me started on the boner pill ads. They just think "Hey, I think old people watch this so let's run ads based on what we think they'll buy." I don't know if any research goes into it or not.

And the sad thing is, I expect this.

And that's strange that Clorox dragged that ad out of the vault for <i>Mad Men</i>. Weird.

I'm Not Surprised

I really find it difficult to believe (especially with stuff like this happening) that Mad Men is actually *criticizing* misogyny by portraying it "the way it used to be." It seems everyone is romanticizing that era and the associated behavior instead of condemning it. Of course, I'm saying all this as a non-watcher, because I know this should would trigger my angry feminist way to much for me to enjoy all the gorgeous outfits and what I hear is good acting. I really don't understand why so many feminists I read online seem to be totally okay with this show.

I'm not arguing that the

I'm not arguing that the commercial is offensive, but I have seen that ad run on a wide variety of programming for the past few months. I think it's a misunderstanding on the part of the advertisers, frankly, as I've largely seen it running on shows with strong female demographics.

Agreed: Not Arguing...

Me too, Kate.

I also have noticed the number of commercials which harp on men's insecurities as well (Viagra, hair re-growth), and was discussing it with my husband when on came a "Viagra for women" type herbal ad (on G4). I'm agry and perplexed, a bad combination for me sometimes.

I also chose to stay away from MM, after glimpsing 10 segment and not seeing any satire, but a whole lot of emulation and pining for "the good ol' days". They can keep it, thanks. I'll watch "the other MM", Modern Marvels, instead.

You should give Mad Men another go....

If that's all you got from it. I've only seen season one, but I don't think "satire" is the proper word for what you should be looking for. It's more like a realistic look behind the All-American faces of the year 1960. Like I said, I've only seen season one so far (I've been Netflixing it), but so far have encountered scathing critiques of sexism (in the way the women are treated in the office, the harsh response by a doctor to the character Peggy's request for birth control, the ostracizing of a woman by the housewives of the neighborhood simply because she is divorced, the nervous breakdowns, masturbation, and utter depression of the housewife character of Betty, the severe heart attack had by the head of an ad agency because he smoked and drank and womanized).... and these are just a few things. Please go back and watch this show again. It's really excellent. I'm positively spellbound.

'Criticizing' misogyny

@ May - I think there are couple of issues with your comment. First, obviously, you're coming from a place of critiquing the show without having seen it. Because it takes place in an era when sexism was prevalent doesn't mean that it has a sexist POV, anymore than, say, "The Feminine Mystique" has a sexist POV because it was written in the 60s.

More importantly, I don't think of the show as "criticizing" misogyny, but I do think it does a good job of portraying the trials of a select group of women in the era immediately before feminism broke into the mainstream. They have been raised not to question the system of patriarchy, and as each of them runs up against its limitations in their own way, they're all (internally) asking the same thing - "why does it have to be this way?"

A good portion of the drama comes from their pushing back against that sexist assumption. Peggy Olson might be the most interesting character on the show, because she is realizing that she lives in a world where men are free to pursue what they want, professionally and personally, and she wants to do that too. More and more, we're seeing her do exactly that, and her fear subsides every time she moves forward (her conversation with her secretary this week being a great example). You might be worried about the show stirring up your inner "angry feminist," as you put it, but I think there's just strong a chance that she will be moved to watch these brave women drag society forward, kicking and screaming, into the light. Their stories may not all have happy endings, but neither does life. Give "Mad Men" a chance.

Different ads?

And I'm not sure that Kelsey's experience is universal. Different cable systems do sell different ads. We've been getting Canada Dry and Expedia this season. I won't try to peer into the brains of marketing/advertising people, though - that's a scary place to be.

OT: I Think I Shall

...give it a fair shake and sit through an entire episode.

I'll also learn to spell-check, too.

hit the bottle

It is clear that the vintage Clorox bleach bottle was the motivation for disseminating this crap back out onto the airwaves again. I completely agree with Kelsey, the commercial is OUT OF PLACE with the litany of hyper-masculine adverts but the 'woman is slave to her laundry' theme is so congruent with the material within Mad Men it seems as if the audience goes back in time. The male viewers get to view exciting advertisements that reek of male dominated society, and women, well we are left with commercials for cleaning supplies, documenting our position as maids

I am so happy you finally

I am so happy you finally posted this. From the first instance I saw it, I thought it was one of the most egregious examples of advertising that continues to perpetuate the idea that only women take care of household chores. The lack of men on commercials for cleaning products has always really irritated me. I've also always been bothered because it seems like advertisers have such a low opinion of women's intelligence or humor - see those stupid Swiffer commercials as an example.


Yeah i have to say that I'm glad that you posted this as well because now i can use this inspiration on my black ops 2 blog that i have. This website is really good and i will come back for definite.

Add new comment