Ultra Tune’s latest ad, starring Pamela Anderson, is the epitome of misguided marketing

Ultra Tune's latest campaign is bad creative, and bad for women, argues Anne Miles. But it's also a reflection on the agencies involved, Ad Standards, and Free TV - and they need to be more accountable.

The latest Ultra Tune campaign – featuring the boobs of Pamela Anderson bedazzling Warwick Capper into a sexual trance, unable to control himself – is the epitome of misguided marketing. But worst of all, it is indicative of our broken approval system. This campaign is so far off current consumer needs and is doing more harm to our damaged society – but we can all learn some valuable lessons and start making change for good.

Firstly, this is no feminist rant by any means. This is a business performance problem as much as it is a social issue. This is no harmless little comedy piece. It is a deep-rooted problem for the safety of our women, for women’s ability to be taken seriously in leadership positions, for our understanding of the real customer. It is also setting back men too, through stereotypes.

This ad should never have been approved by our industry approval bodies. Where were they? How could this slip through?

Sexualisation linked with abuse and exclusion

Before we even get to the campaign’s strategic problems, let’s start with the known correlation between sexualisation of women in media and the link with sexual assault and abuse. This alone is enough to show us that we need to stop.

Every 10 minutes, somewhere in the world, an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence. Nearly one in five girls are sexually abused at least once in their life. Many studies show that women are shown in a sexual manner in 51.8% of all advertising produced and, if in a men’s magazine, up to 76% of the time.

In a piece of Plan International research, an overwhelming 94% of respondents believe that women in leadership are treated less well because of their gender. If our community continues to be exposed to campaigns like this on air, we’re going to take a very long time to see any improvement in this horrendous number.

There is no disputing the connection between sexualisation of women in media and the direct impact it has on how men and boys see women. Time to stop, Ultra Tune.

Sex drive is not a human entitlement

The stereotype that a man is unable to control his sexual desire is the root of many of these problems and is often exaggerated in advertising.

New scientific research by Dr Emily Nagoski, director of wellness education at Smith Collect Massachusetts reveals in her book, ‘Come as you are’, new science that disproves the myth that there is such a thing as a sex drive. A drive is a motivational system to deal with life-and-death issues like hunger or being too cold; we aren’t going to die if we don’t have sex.

The Ultra Tune ad depicts a stereotype that is a scientific myth, and which fosters unhealthy behaviour with damaging results for women.


Ultra Tune has made the rookie error of considering its past sales data as evidence of its potential audience. Think about the conditions that created this audience and the unconscious (or not-so-unconscious) bias that was in place when this data was captured. When bias is in place during the sales process it will keep being amplified through every touch point and give a false impression of who a potential customer is.

The CEO of Ultra Tune claims his audience ‘loves this work’, however they were already biased, and ignorant of the work’s impact. Listening to this closed market is a big limitation to sales growth. Given this audience is a closed community, ever-diminishing, it’s a limited opportunity for the brand.

This is the same phenomenon the gaming industry experienced, when most of games were targeted to men. The product, packaging and advertising were ‘masculine’, and marketers believed this was their target audience. Market research confirmed it. And if Nintendo had acted only in response to this, it would never have invented the Nintendo Wii, a genderless and ageless game solution that captured the market with unprecedented results. Past sales data is not where the best-performing brands focus.

The real Ultra Tune buyer is a woman

The majority of automotive purchases are made by women, with 65% involved in new car purchases and even more if you add in used cars.

A smarter marketer, therefore, would consider a gender neutral approach to attract all potential Ultra Tune customers for parts and services. Let’s trust that women will vote with their wallets and we’ll finally get change in spite of our authorities failing us.

Our approval bodies

Currently, if Ad Standards receives a complaint about an ad, the client is listed and accountable publicly. Its advertising agency or production house isn’t.

The creative agency is so crucial to generating the work. It isn’t innocent; agencies need to be accountable too.

It is ignorance, greed and laziness that drives this kind of work when there are so many other ways to make a statement and build awareness and profile.

Agencies and production companies need to be equally outed in public by Ad Standards in order to become more accountable.

This campaign will have been approved by Free TV’s Commercials Acceptance Division before going to air. Currently, our regulations and control around stereotypes is less stringent than in other countries and we’re sadly lagging on the world stage here. Many times, Free TV simply gives a warning that the brand in question could face public backlash, but ultimately still allows the work to run. Even if a complaint is made to Ad Standards, the creative has already been seen by millions and the damage is done.

Free TV needs to take more responsibility and prevent this work from going to air in the first place.

I’m in discussions with each approval body and calling on industry reform. (Anyone wishing to join me, please get in touch.)

There is no fiscal value in creating work like Ultra Tune’s. There is no societal good. There is no industry good. The approval system needs a shake-up. The supply chain needs more accountability. Time to fix it.

Anne Miles is the founder of Suits&Sneakers, an advocate for diversity and inclusion, and also conducts training on unconscious bias in the creative process


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