Four naked women are dancing on Times Square – only wearing body paint. The Swedish ip-phone company Rebtel, who are marketing a call plan in India under the motto “Rebtel gives you something to talk about.” Sexist says Swedish Women’s Lobby.
Rebtel, largest in the world among ip-phone companies after Skype, had a turnover of $71 million last year. Recently, they had four women dancing to the popular Indian tune “Chammak Challo”on Times Square in New York. What raised a few eyebrows was the women’s outfits. They wore nothing but thongs and body paint. The purpose with the event was to market a campaign for unlimited calls to India. The dances ended with the women holding a sign displaying Rebtel’s logo and the words “Gives you something to talk about #IndiaUnlimited.”
Rebtel proudly write about the event in a press statement. The company wants to step out of the box and push boundaries – in this case “dance into controversy by challenging Indian cultural norms.”
“Rebtel is a rebellious brand willing to take risks and to participate in conversations which we find important in today’s multi-cultural world. The Times Square event was an interesting, and easygoing way for us to reach out in a traditionally conservative culture, and to pursue a debate regarding boundaries in society“, marketing manager Varun Atrey says.
The idea is to elevate users in India as free spirited and open minded.
“Most companies try to reach immigrants through stereotypical portrays. We are not that kind of brand and we think it is a refreshing way to make people aware of Rebtel.”
Johanna Dahlin, organizing secretary at the Swedish Women’s Lobby is not satisfied with Rebtel’s explanation:
“It is a clear example of sexism in marketing where women’s bodies are used to gain attention to a company or merchandise. We work through the campaign Reklamera to counteract against advertising like this, since it is an obstacle to gain equality.”
She thinks it is ridiculous how the company claims the want to step out of the box.
“There is no great rethinking related to this sort of marketing, at all. On the contrary, it is old.”
Varun Atrey claims instead that the event is part of a feminist movement. He refers to a debate which has arised in USA around nakedness. It started with a filmmaker observing it being forbidden for women to walk topless in the city, but not for a man.
“The movement has since grown where women protest topless in New York. It is a grand debate and people either loath or love it. What you cannot do is to ignore it, and for Rebtel who want to be a part of the conversation, it is a fantastic opportunity”, Varun Atrey says.
The Swedish Advertising Ombudsman Elisabeth Trotzig did not want to comment this particular case because it’s not aimed towards Swedish consumers. She does however say that there are great differences between the Swedish consumers view on gender discriminating advertising, compared to the rest of Europe.
“I cannot give an answer about the situation in the USA, and even less so India. But when it comes to Europe what usually brings reactions is misleading advertising. In Sweden, on the other hand, the question regarding gender discrimination stands high on the agenda and almost half of all claims to the Advertising Ombudsman are attached to this”
What is considered sexist ads by Swedish standards?
Advertising is deemed gender discriminatory if it portrays either men or women’s bodies as pure sexual objects in a offensive way. By practice, it is considered offensive when there is no reasonable correlation with the product being advertised. Or, if the advertisement is reflecting a stereotypical view on gender roles, which can be found to downgrade either or both genders”, Elisabeth Trotzig says.
News site Buzzfeed also writes about Rebtels phone campaign with the Headline: “Today’s dose of WTF”