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Is catcalling bad advertising?

On my way into work this morning I was listening to two of my favourite podcasts (speaking of podcasts check out our first foray into the field of podcasts) and it got me thinking…

Is Advertising comparable to Catcalling?

Let me explain – a bit of background first and then we’ll delve into my totally unresearched, uneducated and over-generalised theory.

Podcast 1 Note to Self

A brilliant show that follows Manoush Zomorodi trying to decipher how we can live a human and humane existence in the digital age. This episode in particular was probing the depths of data analytics and ad targeting carried out by Cambridge Analytica (CA) during the Trump campaign for the US presidency. Manoush mentioned

The take away was that with all the data we freely give away when we agree willy-nilly to Ts and Cs for every app and social media platform is that we are giving an entry point into what makes us us and what can be motivators in buying or in this case voting a certain way.

Podcast 2 This American Life

Ira Glass hosts one of the most popular podcasts on the internet – in this particular episode we followed the story of Eleanor Gordon-Smith a Sydney Ethics professor who decided one day that she wanted to find out what motivated men to catcall women on the street by interviewing anyone she was catcalled by and then see if she can convince them as to why it might be a bad idea. You might be surprised how hard it is to persuade (one person in particular named Zac) that it may be upsetting, unwanted and unproductive to the catcallee.

So, there you have it, two fairly unrelated podcasts both filled with pathos for the human condition.

The gentleman (term used loosely) in podcast two refused to accept that women didn’t enjoy it when he slapped one of a group of women on the “arse”. This guy was talking about the compliment given to the female in question, when questioned if the slap had ever worked he said “no” but after some thought he did mention that on an Australia Day two years ago he ended up having a drink with a group of English girls but it didn’t lead anywhere but it’s all a bit of fun and he is a “bird of paradise” he is apparently more like a walrus.

Birds of Paradise are beautiful with colourful plumage that attract a mate by intricate dancers.

If we took all our cues from the animal kingdom life would be interesting – some dogs don’t take no for an answer.

Ok, Rob, get on with it.

Well, is Zac, the self-professed “entertainer”, embarking on a poorly targeted and clumsy advertising campaign? We advertise ourselves often – people often talk about how users of social media try to portray an air of sophistication and beauty that is not seen in their day to day lives, people on dating websites or in the early stages of dating project an image of their perfect selves – my girlfriend had no idea how bad my obsession with basketball was for at least two months.


“Is catcalling the refuge of the brand that isn’t confident enough to do something creative to get our attention?”

Psychometrics in advertising is not an exact science (yet), CA, with their deep data and psychometrics, suggest what type of ad they might use in certain situations for example for an insurance company they may target people who they believe are prone to anxiety or shyness with a lighter ad as opposed to a more stalwart person receiving an insurance ad that plays on the devastating issues of not being insured. The CA data scientist conceded that many are feeling it’s murky waters that they travel in but if psychometric targeting was used to convince people to give up smoking or lead a healthier lifestyle there would be less apprehension than prompting people to vote a certain way.

Zac believes that he is not doing anything wrong even after Eleanor tells him the statistics that a gross majority of women that hate catcalling. Perhaps Zac’s targeting is amazingly prolific and he only slaps girls that are truly in the mood to be slapped or “complimented” even before saying one word to them but the fact that his success rate of continuing a relationship, friendship or even dialogue with these women suggests that he may need to relook at the data. His data being that the females were on the street, on a Saturday night in Kings Cross…

Eleanor taped some females she met on the streets of The Cross as well – only one, of the many, said she was happy with catcalling in a specific instance – one time a man complimented her butt on the street and because she, herself, didn’t think she had a nice arse she was happy – NB no one agreed slapping was acceptable.

Perhaps one day this body conscious young lady could be targeted by psychometrics by a butt-slapping Don Juan but until then Zac’s just playing the numbers game.

So, there are many problems with Zac’s approach from an ethical and moral standpoint but from a marketing perspective he has erred quite considerably as well, in fact, we recently did an article on the Sins of Bad Content (NB. beeping your car horn at a girl is similar to bad content sin #8 how is a girl supposed to let you know that the beep was all she needed to start a loving relationship) if you have a read you can make a case that most catcalling would have you in marketing jail for all the sins that are being committed .

Advertisements often miss the mark – be it due to poor timing (preroll ads on youtube grr) or crossing the line due to ill thought out campaigns. If you are a big brand with lots of money you can play the numbers game like Zac and make a few conversions but it will be a horrible return on investment if the advertisement is bad. OR you can curate your ads for specific buyer personas to increase ROI. Many of the great advertisements and social content pieces nowadays encourage a dialogue between the company and the customer.

So our would be lothario is losing his advertising dollars in playing a bad numbers game but creating dialogue would also be key for the Zac needs a lady campaign – it’s something that has been noticeably lacking – If you listen to Zac he is adamant that the slap or any catcalling is a compliment (here’s Buzzfeed’s answer to this). Perhaps a simple, straight forward “Hi, I am Zac….” “can I buy you a drink?” or “are you having a good time tonight?” would work wonders in increasing the likely hood of a dialogue forming.

In general, catcalling is just lazy advertising – If you look at it from this standpoint, many men don’t want to offend or intimidate women they are trying to express something else but they are failing miserably – you can make yourself stand out from the crowd in any number of ways but catcalling is an easy choice because you know it has a low chance of succeeding so you can laugh off your failure because it was expected. Whereas if you truly put yourself out there with something you want to say and you get rejected… well, then that’s a pill that is harder to swallow. Just like advertising you can play the numbers game, you could do nothing and go home alone, you could do what everyone else does or you could do something special, surprising, something that opens up a positive dialogue.

So remember, if you aren’t a walrus… butt slap = bad. If you need advice on how to attract new customers with genuinely creative advertising drop us a line… not a pick up line.

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Written By: Rob