Last week, Walmart released a new series of ads aimed at summer shopping featuring a funky ditty playing over classic summer scenes. One 30-second spot features a family playing poolside. It follows a boy and girl models in swimsuits, both prepubescent, as they sprint towards their parents lounging in a pool. Suddenly, the film cuts to a shot of the girl’s back as she stands by the poolside. On cue, she bends forward and leaps into the pool as the camera zooms in on her rear end. The camera follows her underwater as she spins and swims toward the surface, catching a glimpse of the text on the front of her suit for the first time. The last third of the ad tracks the girl’s crotch and butt as she glides through the water. Her face appears in a blur just before the ad ends.
The Facebook comments on the ad show extreme reactions. Some people were disgusted by the ad’s “blatant sexualization” of the young girl. Others felt that those seeing a sexual connotation were projecting their own perversion onto an innocent situation. A select few accused the ad of being a thinly-veiled appeal to pedophiles. Was the ad offensive and inappropriate toward young children? Or were keyboard warriors deciding to nitpick an otherwise wholesome advertisement?
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Walmart’s Fashion Ads Matter
In a smart business move, Walmart has decided to invest in its fashion offerings over the last few years. Designs are more on-trend and accessible with a dedicated plus-size label. This summer fashion ad campaign is tagged with the slogan, “We Dress America.” Specifically, this ad series focuses on the new summertime fashions Walmart has added to their line. Summer means shorts, dresses, swimsuits, and sandals! Another ad in the series strolls through a beach scene with sand and sun. Everyone is having fun and they all look amazing in their trendy outfits!
The ads are significant because Walmart is the largest employer in the United States. When they claim “We Dress America”, they’re not exaggerating! Recent investment in their fashion line means these ads will be ubiquitous.
The Camera Guides Your Eye To The Girl’s Butt
Cinematography is the art of framing and shooting film footage. It’s what makes the difference between recording and filming - anyone can press record, only professionals can use cinematography to tell a significant story. One of the tools they use to highlight what’s most important on the screen is called “center framing”. Center framing allows for action on the screen without overwhelming the eye, because it remains focused on the spot in the center of the frame. Whatever’s most important - you put it right smack dab in the center of the frame.
In the ad, the camera follows both kids toward the pool, but switches to focus only on the girl’s backside. As she bends down and pushes her butt out toward the camera, the frame zooms toward her groin. The effect makes her butt appear to almost leap toward the viewer - it’s the only object in the foreground in several frames.
Notice What Isn’t On The Screen
Editing forces the ad to keep a quick pace; following moving objects with a moving camera gives it a sense of inertia. While center framing focuses on what’s on the screen, it’s important to consider what isn’t on the screen. The girl’s face is only seen in a blurry underwater glimpse toward the end of the video. She is a faceless person and remains essentially anonymous and unrecognizable.
The swimsuit featured is a colorful striped number. What’s not shown on the screen is the text printed on the chest of the suit. In the ad, we see a peek of the edge of the text, but never a reveal of what it says. If the swimsuit has a graphic print, why isn’t it featured in the ad itself?
Walmart created an ad that seems to rather explicitly focus on the genitals of a prepubescent girl. While I can give them the benefit of the doubt, it makes me wonder who is in charge of approving these advertisements. If that person cannot see the obvious ways the ad sexualizes the model, they might need to re-evaluate the lens through which they see the world. When the majority of Facebook comments on the ad show concern for its appropriateness, Walmart would be wise to listen and pull the ad itself.
Have you seen the ad in question? What was your take? Tell me more on Twitter @BabyGaga!