Ariel Waldman contributes Adgadget, a column about the intersection of advertising and technology.
Technologically better equipped than booth babes, fantasy fembots seem to be popping up everywhere in ad campaigns these days. Alcohol seems to be popular with the fembots -- they're employed in ads from both Heineken and Svedka -- but Philips is utilizing them in a campaign for an electric razor as well.
It's pretty easy to be creeped out by the influx of ready-to-serve robots -- and not just because these fembots could be the beginnings of the Singularity in disguise. (C'mon, what more suitable "smarter-than-human brain-computer-interface" would be better to take over the human race than one that offered kegs and clean shaves as a "gift from the Greeks"? And who better to be behind the downfall of society than advertisers?) Misogynist undertones run rampant throughout all the ads, so it's no shock that feminine cyborgs are used exclusively in advertising targeting young males -- they tap right into stock fantasies of complete feminine subservience. Svedka kicked things off in 2005 with a humorous "spokesbot" campaign created by Amalgamated. The brand generated a decent amount of buzz -- or at least enough to inspire Heineken and Philips to give the fembots a go. The ads helped establish the Svedka brand in the US, and earlier this year the company was snapped up for $384 million.
Pushing the envelope of good taste a bit further is Heineken's recent "Draughtkeg" commercial, which features a cyborg-like, beer-dispensing, techno-dancing, short-shorts-wearing robotic woman. The ad leaves a bad taste in plenty of viewers' mouths, even while some might salivate at the prospect of owning the ultimate geek girl. With four arms for precise keg tapping technique, the gyrating gynoid dispenses a glass of beer from her body before triplicating herself across the frame. AdAge asked if Heineken had successfully produced "the most sexist beer commercial ever".
Soon after Philips joined Heineken in this tech-tease trend, releasing a spot for its RobotSkin Moisturizing Shaving System. This subservient sci-fi female extracts a device out of her wrist to ever-so-carefully shave a near-naked showering man. A companion microsite to the Philips campaign is an Animatrix-esque attempt at capturing cyberpunk culture, featuring episodes and extras of alienated characters. Philips at least gives an effort to immerse the user into the sci-fi environment with a few interactive possibilities. Previous campaigns for Philips razor "technology" like Shave Everywhere received high reviews for user-engagement, a willingness to let brand standards of appropriateness subside, and overall hilarity. (We attempted to visit Heineken's marketing microsite for Draughtkeg, but after waiting minutes for the "futuristic beer delivery system" to load, we wrote off the future of delivery systems as apparently being too futuristic for our primitive Earth browser.)
So are the mere presence of gynoids, fembots, and cyborgs blatantly sexist? Well, no; Star Trek: Voyager's Seven of Nine starred as an attractive, intelligent, and far-from-submissive Borg (even if her popularity from male viewers stemmed from her physical attractiveness).
So, where's the line between being turned on or turned off by depictions like this? Gadgets give, and everyone likes to receive, right? As offensive or creepy as the Heineken and Philips ads may seem, advertisers can't seem to help tapping into a guilty pleasure between man, woman, and machine. It may turn out that resistance is futile -- at least until advertisers push beyond marketing male-dominated products and give us our apple-martini-dispensing androids.
Ariel Waldman is a social media insights consultant based in San Francisco. Her blog can be found at http://shakewellbeforeuse.com. Views expressed in Adgadget are her own.