March 26, 2008

Taco Bell Promo: Problematic? Yes. Misogynistic. Not Really.

Posted in advertising, body politics, gender, heteronormative, sports at 11:10 pm by LB

Feministing recently posted about a new Taco Bell Promo, calling it “misogynistic.” Since then I’ve seen a bit in the anti-feminism segment of the blogosphere, up in arms because “the feminists are at it again!” bitching over nothing because our abundant gender equality makes it so we have nothing else to complain about.

To be honest, I didn’t think the ad was misogynist (as in perpetuating woman-hate), and I just moved on to reading the next feministing story. But me not classifying it as misogynistic doesn’t mean it isn’t deeply problematic.

The whole promo is this: you can “pretend” you are a fashion photographer by taking still images from digital video footage of a model on location (who happens to be in the current SI swimsuit issue, to be discussed further down). Yes, you read it right. It’s really that stupid.

But, it’s also problematic.

This report from MarketingVox hits the nail on the head:

SI and Taco Bell promoted the site with online ads on and, as well as other sites with a large male audience.

  • Whether or not men are the largest consumer “category” of Taco Bell (thereby justifying addressing its advertising to men) is inconsequential. Promos like these that directly and unapologetically target and reward heterosexual men treat all other customers as irrelevant. That there are more customers from one demographic group than another does not justify acting like the others don’t exist.
  • It also assumes that women’s bodies are generically understood as THE body that should be objectified-that women’s bodies do and should operate as desirable objects for heterosexual men and women alike. The creators might indeed respond by claiming that many women (lesbians too?) will enjoy the interactive site. But this begs the question, if it really is a both-gender activity, then why the heavy promotion on sites with large male audiences? If it is really seen as a gender-neutral activity, then why tailor the advertising of the promo to men as well?
  • And it’s insulting to and generalizes men as well. It’s clear to me that this was thought to be a reward for heterosexual men-something that they would want to spend time doing in the evening, and also taking in the advertising for the new Taco Bell products. This a pretty shallow assumption of how men ideally spend their time and what they find compelling and valuable. And did I say yet that it’s pretty dumb?
  • Even more blatant, yet also often forgotten, there is an enormous amount of heteronormativity going on here. For even if the justification for the promo is that the Taco Bell audience is mostly male, there is the underlying assumption of the heterosexuality of those men. How else do you explain a promo targeted at men that rewards them with being able to “direct” (yes, the promo is called “Directing Danielle,” which is kinda icky) the photographing of a swimsuit model?

Why don’t they allow the winner to have a choice of model?, you ask. That would make sense to me. But that would presume that the promo is actually about the interactive activity on the website. But it’s about corporate sponsorship. The problem is that the promo is sponsored by none other than Sports Illustrated, who invests more money and energy in promoting (non-athletic) women’s bodies for visual consumption than in proper news coverage for female athletes. The mere existence of the swimsuit issue from a sports magazine (!) reminds us that the appropriate culturally-sanctioned use of women’s bodies is not athletics, not strength, not aggression, not speed, not size, not bulk, but is being a sexually desirable object, that’s small, that doesn’t take up too much space, that is passively sprawled out for display, and one that is always, always available

But the Taco Bell promo is not about being able to photograph a model. It’s about sponsorship revenue from a “Sports” news magazine that can’t seem to realize that strongly advocating women as sex objects for the heterosexual male viewer, the consumer of choice, has no place in a magazine that is
supposed to be about sports-women’s and men’s sports, with readers who are female and male, heterosexual and queer, white and people of color.

No one needs to apologize for finding women attractive, and this criticism does not suggest that finding a person attractive is wrong. But the problem here is the assumption that (straight men) are the center of the world and that women’s bodies alone are the ubiquitous symbol of sexuality and beauty. And that’s what needs apologizing for.


  1. […] judged for their adherence to conventional “femininity” (as I’ve written about elsewhere). Some of this happens in the way women’s sports is reported and discussed, and some of it is […]

  2. […] on Taco Bell’s previous ad campaign here. Boobs sell tacos right? Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)The legacy of Amadou […]

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