The holiday season always brings a new wave of festive advertisements, ranging from tasteful cocktail scenes selling you tablecloths, or trimmed Christmas trees trying to make you buy their sweaters for the family dinner party. With the new season, too, comes the normal awkward experiences at those intimate holiday parties—strange conversations with your estranged in-laws, or answering terrifying questions about your future from your grandparents. What no one prepares for, though, is when Christmas commercials become as creepy as reality.
This Christmas season, Bloomingdale’s released its annual catalog of holiday specials and advertisements for outfits worthy of the fanciest dinner parties. One of the ads depicts two people—a woman, dressed all in black and white and looking to the far edge of the ad with a big grin across her face, and a man looking at her much more seriously. Some interpret his gaze as loving and wistful; others as creepy and predatory. His expression, however, means very little compared to the tagline for the advertisement—“spike your best friend’s eggnog when they’re not looking.”
Let’s just let that sink in. This ad is, literally, telling people that if you look at a girl—or at any other person—the way this man is, you have a right to take away their voice, their consent, and their choice. This is not subtle or nuanced. This is written in black and white, for a large American population to read and add to a growing societal acceptance of rape culture. Further, it’s being used in this ad as a selling point without any actual need for it. How are we supposed to respond to being sold rape culture like it’s attractive or glamorous? Social media did not disappoint, and are not willing to let this go.
Amid the (predictable) backlash on the retailer’s social media, Bloomingdale’s issued an apology for the ad both on their Twitter page and to NBC in the network’s report on the controversy. For the apologetic tweet, in its 140-character glory, Bloomingdale’s wrote, “We heard your feedback about our catalog copy, which was inappropriate and in poor taste. Bloomingdale’s sincerely apologizes.” To NBC, the retailer said, “In reflection of recent feedback, the copy we used in our recent catalog was inappropriate and in poor taste. Bloomingdale’s sincerely apologizes for this error in judgement.” But, the ad is a part of Bloomingdale’s paper catalog, and therefore cannot be retracted. The apologies are basically the end of the line for this scandal.
But what can we do? Is there any proper way for the consumers to punish an entire corporation for attempting to use rape culture as a festive selling point? My biggest question isn’t how to get revenge on Bloomingdale’s, however; it’s how to stop this from happening.
The ad was posted in a paper catalog, despite the extensive editorial process it was supposed to endure. Numerous models, makeup artists, lighting and set designers, and photographers had a hand in creating this image, and a reputable marketing team gave it a label that society says is effective in garnering sympathy from the masses. But there’s something so wrong when the societal tagline they come up with promotes date rape and the ignorance of consent—two very large issues in American society that threaten women, and men, on a daily basis. This threat is no less prevalent during the holidays. What does it say about the way we live when one of our largest corporations sees no problem with needlessly inserting these issues into their ads, knowing the reaction it was sure to achieve?
Right now, there’s no strong way for the single consumer to stand against Bloomingdale’s. Boycotts are not often felt by large corporations, nor would much of the population participate; attacking them on social media has a very limited scope on making an impact; even calling and writing to them is easily ignored. So how do we make an example of Bloomingdale’s? How do we prevent rape culture from being used as a marketing tool against us?
That answer is simple, if not as easy—do not let them get away with this. This holiday season, start a conversation with your family and friends; anyone you feel safe enough with to talk about these issues. Bring up the scandal surrounding Bloomingdale’s. Discuss the marketing techniques that target our generation. Talk about what’s going on around you. Let’s see if we can start to change some opinions on how things tend to be done around here.