Ad Women by Juliann Sivulka

Ad women may have flattered themselves into believing that their success proved they transcended gender and were superior to the stereotypes they trafficked in.

Ad Women

Publisher: Prometheus
Subtitle: How They Impact What We Need, Want, and Buy
Author: Juliann Sivulka
Price: $26.98
Length: 415
Formats: Hardcover
ISBN: 9781591026723
US publication date: 2008-11

Under ordinary circumstances, an academically oriented book like advertising professor Juliann Sivulka's would probably not have received much of a publicity push. But presumably, the popularity of AMC's show Mad Men has made it an opportune time to publish a book called Ad Women, particularly considering that one of the show's central plotlines is to trace how Peggy, initially a secretary in the show's fictional firm of Sterling Cooper, blossoms into a full-fledged copywriter.

With her presupposed insight into the female mind, Peggy represents a competitive advantage for Sterling Cooper over the firms reluctant to empower women. As the show depicts it, Peggy is able to introduce a more sophisticated psychology to the way her firm's ads construct female desire. But is she thereby also selling out her gender for her own personal advancement?

This is the sort of question that Sivulka's study seemingly intends to takes up. In the introduction, she argues the indisputable point that "as American women become increasingly involved in the design, marketing, and advertising of commodities, they also had a significant influence on shaping lifestyles, perpetuating stereotypes, and engendering the practice of consumption as a feminine pursuit." Advertising, after all, is a principal way of leveraging gender difference for capitalism's benefit, highlighting tensions in the expectations for the sexes and exploiting them to sell products.

Women who got ahead in advertising were engaged in a tail-devouring sort of process: Through their work in honing restrictive gender norms, they obviated the opportunities that had brought them to a position of influence in the first place. Advertising women may have flattered themselves into believing that their success proved they transcended gender and were superior to the stereotypes they trafficked in.

But that stance is undercut by the way in which ad women became pawns in a de facto divide-and-conquer strategy, doing the dirty ideological work of preserving male privilege in order to enjoy a limited taste of its fruits for themselves. At the same time, because their success was linked to special insight into the feminine, they perpetuated the view that a woman's only natural and authentic area of expertise was herself.

Sivulka would not have us take such a harsh view. Ad Women is structured so that a cursory history of the advertising business and all its dubious innovations for fashioning a consumerist hegemony can be contrasted with the women in the industry, who Sivulka generally presents in a positive light as innovators or progressives, exerting a moderating influence on an otherwise ruthless practice. Much of her well-illustrated text, which teems with photos and examples of advertising from the past century, catalogs prominent female advertisers in America, presenting brief biographies and summaries of their résumés (many, we are told, are in the "American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame").

We are also introduced to women who sought to influence gendered marketing discourse, such as conservative "home economist" Christine Frederick and Herta Herzog, who probably inspired the Germanic harridan market researcher in Mad Men’s first season. (After she tersely supplies a Freudian analysis of a market segment in a meeting, Don Draper throws her report in the trash.)

But despite the parade of ads and ad executives in the book, very little of the means by which femininity is constructed is actually explored nor are we supplied a close examination of the tension in the work of women in advertising. Unlike, say Judith Williamson’s Decoding Advertisements, which offers a poststucturalist account of how advertising can function as ideology, Ad Women merely offers examples of ads targeted at women, and tracks how the approaches changed.

Despite Silvulka’s gestures toward causality and her vague assertions that advertisements have helped shape social mores, the book tends to present history -- served up in the book chronologically in sweeping, general terms -- as something that just happens and to which advertising then accommodates itself accordingly.

It’s a shame that Sivulka attempts to cover the overarching history of advertising along with the women within it, because it seems a much leaner and more useful book could be carved out of the material she assembles. At its best, the book hints at how advertising women identified the shared fantasies and frustrations of their gender -- the limited horizons, the impossible idealized standards they were expected to live up to, the yearning for freedom and independence, the desire for recognition -- and used ads to offer fleeting amelioration.

Sivulka quotes Ruth Leigh, a pioneer in using celebrity endorsements to advertise beauty products: "Women demand vicarious experience. They know they are not like the pretty, dainty young housewife in the kitchen cabinet advertisement, but they like to think of themselves in terms of that trim young thing." The ads could serve as vehicles for escape, just like the entertainment products they sponsored, regardless of what they advertised.

But Sivulka shies away from considering how ads function at that level; instead we get anodyne, party-line assertions like this: "In selling a product. ad women could educate people in the knowledge of the comforts and conveniences of life, to speed up and eliminate drudgery, and to raise standards of living." This is the standard advertising-as-customer-service argument that marketers prefer in their own self-justifications.

To counterbalance the apologia for advertising, Silvulka could have supplied more detailed investigation of women like Helen Woodward, who left the marketing profession in revulsion. A different book might focus exclusively on the discrimination women experienced at ad agencies and the strategies they adopted to circumvent it. Another might focus on ad women's ambivalence as they succeeded in exploiting other women's dreams of a more fulfilling life.

Though Ad Women covers a great deal of territory, the analysis is often necessarily tentative, and the generalizations don't always inspire confidence. For example, in a capsule bio about J. Walter Thompson copywriter Helen Landsdowne Resor, Silvulka writes, "In everything she did, Landsdowne was committed to women's rights." Everything? The way the ad business's workings are explored seem a bit remedial as well -- definitions for such familiar terminology as planned obsolescence and focus group bog down the book unnecessarily and makes one wonder just who the intended audience for this book is (high schoolers?).

Also, the text sometimes lapses into clumsy term-paperish prose marked by unparallel structures, misplaced modifiers, and redundancy. (It's a telling sign that the word impact is used as a verb in the subtitle.) Such traits tend to sharpen a reader's skepticism, making it harder to enhance the text's insights with sympathetic understanding.

More distressing, Sivulka at times presents potentially important distinctions in a hopelessly muddled way. For instance, she stresses the fact that "the very notion of this business of femininity" -- women marketing to women -- "contradicts feminist theories that claimed it was the ad men, acting from their limited ideas of female character and aspirations, who turned women into sex objects and portrayed them in narrow roles. In doing so, they discounted or even ignored significant market-oriented women's contributions in the mass-consumer goods industries."

But it is impossible to tell what we are supposed to make of that "contradiction": Are we supposed to think the ad women's "significant contributions" are laudatory, or are we supposed to see feminists as having been short-sighted in failing to recognize how women in advertising have helped implement their own oppression? That such points remain ambiguous renders it impossible to figure out in what light to view the facts she presents. It's not clear what argumentative point they are evidence for, or whether there is an argument at all.

Riddled with ambiguous passages, Ad Women never can overcome the contradictions that beset it. It wants to praise the dignity of women in advertising while raising questions about the ethics of advertising medium. It wants to champion high-profile ad campaigns designed by women that ultimately diminished or curtailed the dreams of the women they were targeted toward. Without an analytical framework to synthesize these perspectives, the book comes across as a perplexing mass of details and generalizations in search of a more rigorous reckoning.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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