This story has been updated
Following web backlash Thursday, the pharmaceutical giant Bayer told a Brazilian advertising agency to "discontinue" an aspirin campaign that won awards in Cannes, France this week — and outraged people who thought it made light of a sex crime.
The advertisement, created by AlmapBBDO in Sao Paulo, appeared to recommend the company's extra strength pills to those who realize they've been secretly recorded:
“The concept was presented to our local marketing team in Brazil by BBDO as one of several campaigns that the agency intended to submit for this year’s Cannes Lions festival," Bayer said in a statement. "In order to meet the requirements for submission to Cannes, BBDO paid for limited placement in Brazil. Bayer has not advertised Aspirin through any channel in Brazil for several years. We have asked that BBDO discontinue any further use, dissemination or promotion of this campaign.”
Spokesperson Christopher Loder refused to answer if Bayer ever approved the copy.
Another ad in the campaign featured a balding man. The text directed 38-year-olds with hair loss to take aspirin and teenagers with the same issue to reach for extra-strength pills.
The Bayer aspirin spots snagged a Bronze Lion at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, an annual celebration of media and marketing. An international panel of judges select the winners. Per the festival's website:
“Once a year, the industry’s most curious, capable, ingenious minds are assembled to pore over innovative, inspiring communications from around the world and award the most coveted creative prize there is.”
Seven authors received credit for the ".Mov" poster. They’re all men.
“The rampant sexism you see in 'Mad Men' is regrettably still true today,” she said.
— Cindy Gallop (@cindygallop) June 23, 2016
Others expressed similar disgust:
— Gabriella Paiella (@GMPaiella) June 23, 2016
— Tom Megginson (@CreativeTweets) June 23, 2016
I've done a puerile, ineffective, utterly unfunny ad about non-consensual sex.
Where the fuck is my Cannes Lion, goddamit?
— Ryan Wallman (@Dr_Draper) June 23, 2016
In May, the brutal gang-rape of a Brazilian teenager grabbed international headlines after assailants video-recorded the assault and posted the graphic footage to social media. Many similar incidents have happened in the United States. It speaks to broader views on sex and rape, Gallop said. The poster appeared to frame surreptitiously recording intimacy as humorous behavior. That's a sex crime with lasting psychological effects on victims.
That "ingenious minds" lauded the work is troubling, she said. "It’s a detrimental force when you think how powerful ad is in popular culture."
It also reflects the lack of gender diversity in advertising, Gallop said: The vast majority of creative directors in the United States, for example, are men. Bayer's board of management, meanwhile, has six men and one woman.
A more gender-balanced room might have caught the problem.
"You need more than one woman to change a group's thinking," she said. "One or two women might have felt pressured to go along with the rest of the room."
Christina Mancini, an associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Government and Public Affairs who works on crime policy, said whatever the cause, the language minimizes a serious offense.
“The ad trivializes abuse and suggests that couples or those with a prior relationship — the use of ‘babe’ indicates familiarity — do not have to ensure consent to sex acts for them to be legitimate,” she said.
Debby Herbenick, associate professor at the Indiana University School of Public Health, said a victim's pain can heighten when such footage is passed around.
"Many of these images and videos often get shared with their peers, classmates, or online through 'revenge porn,'" she said. "This kind of shaming has contributed to many people experiencing depression, anxiety, and even attempted or completed suicides."
More from Wonkblog:
What a creepy Bloomingdale's ad tells us about America's understanding of rape
The Stanford sex offender's beliefs about rape are surprisingly widespread
You have to drive an hour for a rape kit in rural America