Larry Harnisch, of The Daily Mirror, scanned these two ads for Grand Marnier from the latest New Yorker. Normally we don’t get too worked up over phallic imagery, but I thought these two might be good for discussion. Besides, it’s been a while since we linked to our awesome collections of ads featuring ejaculation imagery, subliminal sex, and not-so-subliminal sex (NSFW).
In the first, the woman greets a man at his door. She is wearing a dress with a very low cut back. She is holding the bottle behind her, angled provocatively. Don’t miss the shape of the bottle itself (and what exactly is that circle at the base of its neck?).
In the second ad, the woman sits deep in an armchair, her legs in the air. The bottle, being poured by a man, is tilted towards her, and spilling liquid into her glass.
So, Readers, what do you think? Is the bottle meant to be read as a penis subconsciously? Do you think it works that way, intended or not?
Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
Chris — October 20, 2009
I'm afraid that I really can't read any phallic imagery in the first picture, though I'd certainly like to know what exactly those white "ghosts" are past the door. However, I can see that the second picture may be read as blatantly phallic and that's how I see it. The pose of the woman appears very sexual or at least provocative. It's certainly not a pose I'd expect anyone to naturally sit in.
Gen — October 20, 2009
I can see the phallus clearly in both ads. What is more disturbing to me is the implied message that a man need only insert booze to receive sex from the woman.
NoPeanutz — October 20, 2009
The circle at the base of the neck on the bottle is the design on the bottle. Their is a logo or seal inside the circle.
Brad — October 20, 2009
I'm having a hard time seeing this as being even remotely phalilc in nature. The circle in the bottle is always on the bottles in the stores:
The first one doesn't seem to be sexual in nature, the second one just a simdgen
sarah — October 20, 2009
Yeah, it can defintely be interpreted as phallic, though i would imagine most people looking at the ad wouldn't explicitly realise it. What I wonder is how deliberate it was or if it was unintentional.
Sometimes I find ads that use that type of symbolism straight up insulting, other times they can be quite amusing, I guess it depends how it's done.
@Chris, I couldn't figure out the man's shirt either. It looked like a floating plastic bag to me :)
Actually, I suppose another interesting point is that you don't see their faces, though I don't have any interpretations for that :)
splack — October 20, 2009
I think a discussion about subliminal advertising, complete with examples and maybe even advertising curriculum that talks about these techniques would be a good way to expand on this. Too bad I don't have the materials to do this for SI, but I think anyone who has done any research on subliminal ads or is trained in graphic design at all can see where they were going with these (e.g. if she wasn't angling the penis bottle that way right at her bum, it might not be so suggestive, and yes, graphic designers positively obsess about placement of a product and if there are no sexual implications intended, they(we) make sure not to use sexually suggestive imagery because they(we) are meticulous about the messages we are sending and what we are communicating to the consumer -- ads are not even close to being just creatively thrown together, even if they are meant to look that way).
KD — October 20, 2009
One of my english teachers in high school had been a successful advertiser before deciding to teach. According to her, symbolism like this is never accidental. Too much money, time, and research goes into advertising to overlook something like this, and subliminal sexual symbols are used as much as possible. If it seems remotely suggestive, it was probably meant to be.
As an artist, I look at these images and I don't see how this could be anything other than sexual. Drawing on a professional level isn't putting pencil to paper and seeing what happens. Every line, every element is counted, and what I'm seeing here in the second picture is strong directional movement from the top right to the bottom left. In other words, driving right into the woman. Her legs kicking into the air add a great amount of dynamism to the whole thing, topped off by the splash of liquid - it's like her whole body is one giant cup ready to catch the booze. Other strong sexual elements - sexy dress, of course, perfectly arched stilettos, and the man's bow tie is already undone. You can't make a picture about pouring liquid on a woman and say it isn't sexual, IMO.
Tiffany — October 20, 2009
Perhaps the design of the bottle was unintentional, but the ad which accentuates it's phallic nature was probably not. However, I don't find it tactless or offensive.
splack — October 20, 2009
The man is at her door, notice the chain? The implication is that the Grand Marnier "unlocks" the door to the swinging party.
I didn't say the adults in the ads weren't consulting, and nowhere in the post was it stated that anyone was supposed to find the ads offensive. What is done here at sociological images is analyzing images in their sociological context, and these ads do not exist in a vacuum. If the woman was standing outside the partially open door with the man inside holding the liquor, implying that she was trying to "get in", there would be different implications/associations. If the woman was simply sitting in a chair instead of falling into one with her legs in the air while a man poured two drinks on the table, again, there would be different, likely still sexual, implications/associations.
Thomas — October 20, 2009
The first advertisment struck me as a very feminist ad. The woman is the one who holds all the cards. She decides whether to let the man in to her space to spend an enjoyable evening with her. She doesn't even need the man to have fun because she's already been enjoying an open bottle of GM on her own. She is a powerful women that can make the choice for herself.
Thomas — October 20, 2009
The second ad too could be seen as feminist. The woman is the focus, with the man only making an appearance as a hand holding a bottle of GM. The woman is the one who has taken the initiative of asking for a drink; she has extended her hand to get a drink and has coaxed the man with a little touch from her outstretched toe. She is the one who has made the choice to drink and has the power to get one when she wants. Why not have a little fun with the man? Let him stand while she relaxes. If she wants a drink he will jump at the chance to oblige her.
Korean Sociological Image #20: Sex Sells « The Grand Narrative — October 20, 2009
[...] See here for some similar phallic symbolism from the latest New [...]
Graves — October 20, 2009
As others have said, this is phallic symbolism done tastefully. There is no force implied and the woman here has taken the initiative - by the scene arranged I'd say she invited him over with this in mind.
On another note it's interesting that the man is never fully realised. The outside world shadows him out and the second merely casts him as a hand in service. Do we then think he enslaves himself to maintain a sexual relationship? Does his identity even matter to her? I'd love to hear some comments on this aspect!
Amelia — October 20, 2009
I'm curious, why are people interpreting it as the man "getting sex" from the woman? Couldn't it just as easily be interpreted as the woman "getting" sex from the man? Or just two people having a good time together? Sexy advertising is not ipso facto misogynist. Women like sex, too! And so we must at least entertain the possibility that sexual imagery isn't solely there to appeal to men.
The cues in the first ad actually point to the woman's agency in both supplying the fancy booze and unlocking her apartment (or hotel room?) door to let her glamorous lover in. As a young feminist woman who enjoys both sex and alcohol, it sounds like a nice scenario to me. Now, please, be a dear and pour me a drink while I saucily drape myself over this armchair.
Village Idiot — October 21, 2009
Grand Marnier is often poured as a nightcap; the last drink before bedtime.
It's probably why the man's tie is undone in the first ad, but we're left to speculate about why he's showing up at her door after she's already gotten home and locked it when they're both dressed like they were out on the town. Maybe she's checking to see if he's already too drunk to perform before deciding to let him in? I encountered that in Europe, especially in Holland; if I'd finished my day's business, had a few beers and a spliff, and was bicycling home I might take a side trip and drop by a female friends' place. If it was late she would open the door with the chain still on while she determined if I was stupid sloppy drunk (not my style, so I was almost always invited in). A friend there told me that's how it works in some places: Man knocks on door, woman answers and checks man's severity of intoxication, woman decides if man is within tolerable limits and either unchains the door or closes it in his face. Of course, he may not be drunk enough so she's hiding the nightcap behind her with her freakishly long arms. The second picture is clearly after-hours since her pose is casual to say the least, so he's pouring her a nightcap so they can finish their last awkward maneuverings toward each other and finally get it on.
And let's not forget that a lot of men need to ply themselves with alcohol in order to get over their mental hangups enough to express themselves to a woman they're fond of, and like was mentioned above a lot of women do it on purpose too because inhibitions get in everybody's way.
Erika — October 21, 2009
Two comments on the first one:
1) it's not his door, it's hers. She's undoing the chain, which means she's on the inside. Which only confuses me further.
2) Forget the bottle - check out the door handle! Maybe it doesn't "read" as phallic because we're trained to look for erect phalluses. But... whoa.
Nathan Rein — October 22, 2009
Does it need to be pointed out that the suggestion that the woman in the image (in particular the first one) is sexually aggressive or in control hardly makes it a feminist statement? Male fantasies, and corresponding ad imagery, are full of images of sexually voracious women. The woman is still seen as an object of fantasy, reduced to the status of a sexual cipher. The appropriate question here is not, "Does the woman in the drawing seem to be the aggressor or the victim?", but rather, "What effect is this supposed to have on the viewer, and how does it fit into the larger cultural context of sexual iconography?"
tripitaka — October 26, 2009
Has anyone noticed the "subliminal" cunnilingus in the first picture? See, her back looks like a tongue and her black dress against the red walls looks like... And of course the phallic object is right in there too. Sheesh.
Michael — November 2, 2009
I think you are exaggerating a little bit. There is some sexual connotation on the add (i.e. that if you drink this liquor you will get laid or will get yourself a sexy woman) but I don't see the bottle as a phallic suggestion as you mentioned. The circle at the neck of the bottle is a wax seal logo and is a characteristic mark of the Grand Marnier bottles.
david dixit — November 9, 2009
This is an interesting web site, but here I say goodbye. I think that this is all a little con-fused. If the bottle is meant to be a penis, then why is it hers, and why is she holding it behind her back ?! Ah, maybe it's a dildo ?! Now we are really becoming convoluted...