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Coffee and Questions: Percolating the Carte Noire advert

Gold Blend

Seriously, where is Giles when you need him?

Despite my keenness to include all types of television within this blog, I must confess that it was not my intention to start by talking about an advert. However, that was until this Carte Noire advert provoked by far the biggest reaction I’ve had to television all week (a week in which I’ve watched three season finales, no less):

Reports vary on what it actually was that I shouted at our set when the second part of that spot came on in the middle of Harry HIll’s TV Burp, but it definitely contained what might kindly be described as a “generous sprinkling” of swear words, followed by a full minute in which the only words that I could manage to gasp through my rage were “sexist sexist sexist”.

Judging by the comments on the YouTube channel for Carte Noire, watching that advert will make you react into one of two distinct ways:

  1. lust
  2. aghast outrage

(NB I’m reminded here of Stuart Hall’s work on interpretative positions for readers of cultural texts, which leads me to believe that there must be a third “negotiated” reading of the CN adverts, as well as these dominant and oppositional ones. However, I’m simply too mad to consider it right now. It probably has something to do with it all being “tongue-in-cheek”. Feel free to offer your reading in the comments!)

Clearly, because I’m not a masochist or a sweeping gendered stereotype, I had the second reaction. Further research for this blog involved watching several other ads from the Carte Noire campaign, which reveals that Mr. 5-Year-Plan (official CN name: Mr. Romantic) has a couple of friends too: Mr. Continental (special skills: French accent, lightbulb changing); Mr. Cool (special skills: facial hair, loves BINTM); and Mr. Confident (special skills: surprise orchestration, amenable to criticism).

Firstly, two questions open to all coffee manufacturers and their respective ad agencies:

  1. Is it just women who buy instant coffee?
  2. What is it about the buying of instant coffee that apparently requires us to be really, really turned on?

Questions specifically for the villains responsible for the Carte Noire campaign:

  1. Are you fucking kidding me?

If stereotyping women as being committment-obsessed, shallow and bitchy, and “average” men as domestically incompetent, committment-phobic and uncaring, is going to help CN to sell coffee, to no public outrage, then I guess the question that we all have to ask ourselves is:

How far have we really come since this?


About toomanydresses

Doctor of romcoms, twee as fuck.


15 thoughts on “Coffee and Questions: Percolating the Carte Noire advert

  1. Lauren, I simply must have your opinion about the Old Spice ad…

    Posted by Hannah Andrews | 22/11/2011, 3:20 pm
    • Haha, good question! I think this gets away with more on a similar theme because it’s obviously meant to be funny (and succeeds) – unlike the CN ads which, if they are meant to be funny, I don’t get!

      The Old Spice ad seems to me to testify to the impossibility of achievement of those stereotypes, rather than reinforce them, because of the excessiveness and ridiculousness of some of the imagery (especially in this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLTIowBF0kE)

      Again, though, I am left confused as to who is supposed to be buying the Old Spice! What do you think of it?

      Posted by Lauren Jade Thompson | 22/11/2011, 3:35 pm
  2. I can’t click to watch the link because I’m at work – I will later, though.

    But I do have one question. Is that Fingers from Gavin and Stacey?

    Also, right, even if I *was* turned on while buying instant coffee, I’d very soon be turned off when I tasted how pish it tastes. So, Carte Noire are on the wrong track there by a country mile, I’d say.

    Posted by Roisin Muldoon | 22/11/2011, 4:10 pm
    • It IS Fingers! For shame, Fingers. For shame.

      That advert is beyond sexist for me. It’s so creepy! And what’s bothering me about it now that I’ve had the chance to watch it is how dismissive it is… like, he’s prepared to humour whatever stupid thing it is you think, and give you coffee so you take him to the bone zone? What is that about? I wouldn’t be drinking that coffee, you don’t know what that creepy git has put in it.

      Posted by Roisin | 22/11/2011, 6:42 pm
      • Haha, I agree. It’s so smarmy and presumptuous as well!

        Posted by Lauren Jade Thompson | 23/11/2011, 10:47 am
      • I wanted to say something about these adverts but haven’t quite been able to find to right words. I think ‘dismissive’ is pretty close to what I was thinking, patronising might be another. I think the main problem with this advert is that if it’s aimed at women, who wants to be talked to/treated like that? Andif it’s aimed at men, surely nobody could see somebody who talks to women (at least we’ve all assumed that he’s supposed to be talking to a woman and not another man) in such a way as aspirational? I just don’t understand who would find being/being with this man a good thing, and then why that would lead me to buy their coffee.

        Posted by Rick Wallace | 23/11/2011, 2:50 pm
      • Also, I actually think that this advert is worse than the 50’s one. There’s no doubt that the ‘freshly perked’ advert is horribly sexist, but I feel (maybe naively) like it’s almost an expected reflection of the society at the time. I think if you were going to make an advert at that time and have a husband and wife sitting at a table, there is no other way in which that advert would have gone. That’s not to condone the advert, or the attitudes displayed, but I feel it does lets the advert off the hook somewhat, at the expense of the society as a whole.

        The makers of the Carte Noire advert on the other hand have made a conscious choice to go in that direction rather than any number of other non-sexist possibilities. Whilst we clearly don’t live in an unsexist world, I feel like there are many more avenues open to the makers of the CN advert than the one chosen (something I’m not sure is the case with the 50’s ad). It is the fact that this was a conscious choice above all other options that makes this series of adverts particularly bad.

        Posted by Rick Wallace | 23/11/2011, 9:52 pm
  3. Hmmmm. I think they’re just a bit of light fun, aren’t they?. I presumed they were taking the piss out of themselves a bit. And if you have a look on twitter, most women seem to actually quite like them!! IN fact they’re all drooling over them! haha.

    Posted by ellie | 24/11/2011, 12:01 pm
    • That’s true, if you look on twitter you can confirm whatever opinion you held in the first place [via confirmation bias].

      Posted by JoeJackson | 24/11/2011, 12:57 pm
    • I agree that they’re ‘supposed’ to be a bit of light fun, but I’m not sure that they’re ‘fun’ enough – they certainly aren’t funny. The Old Spice advert gets it right to me, in that it’s so ridiculous, and so obviously aware of that ridiculousness that it gets away with it. In my mind, there isn’t enough in the Carte Noire adverts themselves that suggest that the makers of the advert don’t actually believe the things that they’re saying (I’m sure this isn’t the case, but from the advert, we can’t be sure): the Old Spice advert seems to be saying ‘isn’t it ridiculous that we might suggest such a thing’, where as the Carte Noire adverts seem much less certain of the questionable qualities of the advert.

      Posted by Rick Wallace | 24/11/2011, 1:01 pm
    • Thanks for the comments! It is true that a lot of women have written (either on twitter, the YouTube comments, or on Carte Noire’s Facebook page [http://www.facebook.com/cartenoireuk?v=wall]) that they love the ads (or, more often, the men in the ads). I still don’t think this makes them unsexist though! As I wrote in the blog, “lust” seems to be the emotion that these adverts are trying to provoke, and obviously they are suceeding. I think that the debate has to run along the lines that Rick suggested – that we have to see them in the context of how “sexist” we might deem society to be. And, actually, the fact that the adverts have struck a chord with many women is more worrying to me than the adverts themselves. But what do I know? I don’t even drink coffee. Or have a five-year-plan!

      Echoing one of the comments on the facebook group, it would have been nice if one of the ads might have been “let’s discuss that complex case you’re working on at work”, “let me bring you coffee while you do that big pile of marking” or “then we’ll think of ways to discuss that pay rise with your boss” in order to better reflect the wide variety of roles that women have in contemporary society.

      Posted by Lauren Jade Thompson | 24/11/2011, 1:26 pm
      • Or even to have some with women in them to balance things out, maybe.

        Posted by Rick Wallace | 24/11/2011, 2:09 pm
  4. Or maybe some women would really like a man who would empty the dishwasher straight away. I know I would 🙂

    Posted by ellie | 24/11/2011, 1:55 pm
  5. Is just me since adverts have started 200grams has gone up by a £1.00
    like the stuff but not paying for the advert

    Posted by madray666 | 07/12/2011, 10:10 pm
  6. I really do hate anything sexist and I can understand how many women (and men) feel that the ad is reverting back to the not so good old blatant sexism days which is not a good thing but I have to say that I do like the CN ads. Mr Romantic could serve me a cup of coffee any day of the week! Lighten up ladies and learn to laugh at yourselves……

    Posted by Liz | 29/12/2011, 5:18 pm

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