I’ve spent a good part of the day debating whether or not to write about American Apparel’s latest attempt at trollvertising because me writing about it, and you reading it, is inarguably the entire point. But after realizing that me writing about how undeniably icky and offensive this ad is would effectively be advertising for American Apparel, I got to thinking: They’re pretty clearly going even more extreme into the exploitation aesthetic in an attempt to escalate and thus capitalize on the criticism they’ve always received. So the question is, is that defense of a cop-out that doesn’t make them any less culpable for the content of their ads, or is it a legit marketing strategy that is really just them trolling us? And if the latter, does that diminish the impact and subsequent crime of the content of ads like this?
Let’s back up (no pun intended, I think) and examine.
Things that are not wrong with this ad:
- Women wearing skirts of whatever length they choose
- Companies making skirts (or any other type of clothing)
- Building marketing around the sales of skirts
Things that are wrong with this ad:
- You can barely see the skirt
Assuming the primary objective behind advertising any product is to show that product’s use, or to reinforce the image that a brand would prefer their customer’s to associate with the ownership of a product, we have some major problems here.
But another part of me thinks there is nothing wrong with this ad. Think about it: It’s so egregiously over-the-top with the implicitly creepy narrative of girl-as-prey, and so unsubtle with its message of “hey, wear this skirt and get raped!” that there’s a strong argument for the idea that the point was never to normalize or make light of those things. It’s just as easy – and almost more logical and obvious – to argue that American Apparel was never trying to use predatory, rapey images to sell their skirts so much as they are leveraging the rapid reactionism of the internet to sell their skirts.
“But really, what’s the difference?” You ask.
Glad you asked.
There is a difference. Look, American Apparel’s advertising aesthetic is exploitative. It just is. That shit is not new information. So if any company is well-versed in being on the receiving end of harsh criticism about their ads, it’s AA. So what do you do if your whole brand is built on something that unleashes the loathing of the scrutinizing media? If you’re smart, you figure out how to use that hatred to fuel your own fire. And with ads featuring buttholes that hint at increasingly dark themes (if your plan is to use rants against you as marketing, better make sure you’re being as extreme in your offenses as possible, right?), it seems more and more like AA isn’t trying to appropriate rape culture so much as they are using our obsessive moral monitoring in their favor.