Thank you for playing, but you’re wrong!

My university has an on-going series of quirky ads, presenting young people as innovative and fresh-thinking and deeply interested in ideas and technology and science and study. Some of the creative material puzzles me a little, but I figure I’m not really the target demographic.

The latest ad features a young woman walking on water.


I love it. The young woman in the ad is Catherine Cater, a Massey university student. She looks like so many of the young women I see around campus. Happy, confident, focused on their own work, doing some extraordinary things. In the ad, Catherine is very much absorbed in what she is doing. She looks reflective, and deeply engaged. She is not there as decoration to sell something: she is there as an active part of the narrative about the university.

But of course, there’s someone who thinks that the ad is a travesty.

She came to me as if in a dream. She was beckoning and calling to me like a pixie vixen, tempting me to move away from the House of Waikato. She wanted me to surrender and be with her kind. But where was she from? Was she real? A fantasy? A sorcerer’s trick? What game was she on and how could mere mortals play?

She was tempting and titillating. She was feminine and full of grace. She appeared to be from the House of Massey and she was perfect.

My fairy queen appeared as a deity, an academic goddess, the perfect maiden of Massey. She is the temptress. And I was caught by her charms.

Without saying so in as many words, it’s clear that the writer thinks that this ad is sexist, and that it’s all about using sex to sell Massey. He carries on to worry about the way that universities advertise themselves, but it’s curious that he’s only chosen to engage with this advertising campaign now, when it has been running since sometime last year (as far as I can recall).

So, thank you for playing, sir! But YOU”RE OUT!

The writer has totally eliminated the young woman in the ad from his analysis, and dreamed up a fantasy woman instead. Where I see a young woman who is doing exactly what we hope young women will do, that is, focus on their own hopes and dreams, focus on the extraordinary things that they can achieve, focus on achievement, the writer turns her into some kind of sexual object. The objectification going on here is done entirely by the writer. From the writing, it seems that the only way he can react to the young woman is by casting her in a sexual way. He focuses entirely on her as a sexual object, in a way that I think is well beyond the image in the advertisement.

The only problem here is the writer.

Catherine Cater herself puts it so well.

University is evolving, students are changing, and perhaps if you were to step away from the games you seem to enjoy – judging by your use of language – you yourself would see that too. But what would I know? I’m just a stereotypical ‘hot chick’ with no real intelligence and use besides marketing ploys, why would my opinion matter?,” she wrote.

Your aim was to call Massey out on a sexist ad, but in doing so have shown your views to be outdated and sexist all on their own.

For the record, I’ve written this post entirely on my own, my employer has nothing to do with it, and I was only alerted to the opinion piece because a story about it popped up in the local newspaper: Massey University’s new “I am” ad sparks debate. That is where I found Catherine Cater’s own defence of the ads.


4 comments on “Thank you for playing, but you’re wrong!

  1. Lin Tozer says:

    Interesting, agree it is sending the wrong message. Girls can do anything … but so can our boys … bring back equality in educational attitudes and expectations!

  2. Gerard O'Connor says:

    Would the ad work if it had a young man in it?

  3. Mary Rossiter says:

    I too, work for Massey. And I too, like the series of “I Am” ads. I have nieces in the demographic Massey is targeting and I imagine the ads get their attention. However, back (way back) when I was 22, I might have seen this ad differently, along the lines of the highly entertaining Max C. But times change and people do too. Well, maybe not Max …

    Beautiful people have always been used to sell stuff. And they still are – that’s because it works. Why would a university be different in that regard? Could it possibly be that beautiful people … no, wait, I’m going to say it: could be intelligent as well? Where on the space-time continuum has Max been held captive for the last 20 years? How awful for Max to suddenly wake up in this strange futuristic utopia, where stereotypes clash, women break out of their prescribed niche, and men can see beyond a pretty face.

    For sure, if I was still 22 (and perhaps Max can tell me how to hold back the years of maturity), I don’t think an ad featuring a slightly overweight, middle-aged man, harbouring a squinty leer from staring at young women on his computer screen for too long, is really going to grab my attention or make me consider Massey as my tertiary education provider. However, an attractive young woman, shown in an imaginative stance, daring to dream and be creative, definitely would.

    Is the ad sexist? One test is to put a good looking young man in the same ad. No problem, I think he would still be seen as an imaginative and creative young man, etc. (The daring to dream bit might not quite fit, as I think we still have a lot of work to do in encouraging young women to be aspirational, and, from this perspective, the Massey ad is perfectly targeted towards young women.)

    My second test is this: would I want my daughter to be in this ad? No problem. And I think she’d be fairly safe to carry on life as normal; after all, those men who can look at an ad like this and still only see a young woman to feature in their fantasies … well, they’ll be tucked away from society, at home in their darkened rooms, eating corn chips and watching Game of Thrones reruns.

    N.B. These are my personal views and do not in any way reflect those of my employer …. nor do they accurately represent my undying love for Game of Thrones.

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