I will admit that I don’t know much about you. But I do know that you made records when you started racing in IndyCar and NASCAR, sports historically dominated by men. And you have done remarkably well. You are an inspiration to a whole generation of NASCAR fans and women everywhere, but your latest endorsement, well, it’s not so inspirational.
I commute to work. I spend about an hour in the car each way (give or take depending on traffic) four days a week, which means that I’m listening to a whole lot of radio. And imagine my surprise when I heard your latest ad for Ideal Image, a laser hair removal chain. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to live on the Internet, but let me refresh your memory with this paraphrase:
Noise that resembles driving fast in a race car
Male voice: Danica, we need you to come in for maintenance.
Danica: No need, I’m great. My skin is smooth and amazing.
Danica: I look great, don’t need any maintenance, how dare you!
Male: No you really need to come in.
Danica: No I don’t need to, I’ve been able to get my skin looking great with Ideal Image. With convenient appointments it only took a few weeks for my hair removal treatments. And I’m looking and feeling great!
Male: No Danica, your car needs maintenance.
Danica: Oh sure, yeah, be right in.
Ideal Image voice-over explaining that they are conveniently located and have cost-effective and convenient appointments for you to come in for a consultation about their laser hair removal procedure.
Here’s my problem with this ad: for someone that has helped tear down walls for women in your sport, you’re sure doing a lot to reinforcing of some stereotypes in this ad. You are a race car driver. It is your job. When you are in a race, and your Crew Chief (presumably the male in this commercial) radios you to come in for maintenance – do you think about the hair on your legs or armpits or wherever? You’re at work, someone tells you something pretty normal for your occupation, and you think about body maintenance for your body, rather than work on your car?
This feels like you’re stepping back and not showing yourself to be a professional. Yet based on your driving record, you are a professional. And this ad undermines that. Especially at a time when more ads targeted to women are about embracing who you are as a person. And I think this ad could have been written to showcase that you look even better than those first racy GoDaddy commercials because of Ideal Image, without taking a jab at your hard work as a race car driver.
Other advertisers are beginning to capitalize on a less idealized concept of beauty – and self-worth.
There is Dove, who with their Real Beauty campaign is focused on boosting self-esteem through ads like the Real Beauty sketches, where a sketch artist draws two versions of a woman. One is based on how she describes herself; the other is from a total stranger’s description of her. When she sees both images, she is reminded that she is more beautiful than she thinks she is. And there is Aerie who is no longer retouching their photos of young women in their product (underwear). These campaigns have their critics (mainly Dove - read here) but for me, overall, these are steps in the right direction.
Now I know this is about hair removal at the end of the day, which in and of itself is about changing how you look naturally, but you can embrace that without putting a wall back up. A wall that you’ve already worked so hard to tear down. A wall that showed that not only can you compete with the boys and keep up, but you can beat them too. I can’t imagine an ad for a razor for men sponsored by a male driver where his crew chief asks him to come in and he says “but I shaved this morning!” So why portray women as being more concerned about their appearance than their professionalism?
So, back to that ad. Honestly, I got a bit lost in what Ideal Image actually does because I was so distracted by the fictional conversation. And perhaps I’m not the target audience segment that this ad was produced for, but I’m definitely a secondary one. But let’s say it was primarily for men. If my husband brought up Ideal Image as a place to get laser hair removal (because let’s be real, shaving legs can be a pain), I don’t think I’d want to go because of this approach of knocking a strong woman’s professionalism out the window. And that’s a big problem for the brand that for all I know wants to empower women and make them feel better about how they look.