A U.K. toothbrush subscription brand called Brushbox somehow thought it would be clever to pitch first-year university students with an ad featuring a female face with white goop dripping out of her mouth and a tagline that included the phrase, “Spit or swallow.”
— Untameable Shrews (@untamableshrews) September 20, 2018
Imagine you’re a young woman who has worked her entire life to get good grades. Or even one who turned her grades around in secondary school to finally get into a decent university. You’re encouraged and inspired by the growing Time’s Up movement, with an optimism that maybe, just maybe, society will treat you with the respect and opportunity for advancement that true equality would afford. You arrive for your first week of university, and in your welcome bag is a beer coaster ad for a toothbrush. Does this ad encourage you to pursue academic greatness and your full potential? No. It assumes you’ll be too busy with drunken blowjobs. A. Toothbrush. Ad.
According to the Guardian, the coasters were included in promo boxes distributed to about 400,000 first-year undergraduates at universities across the U.K. The Cardiff-based brand was founded in March 2017, and has issued an apology for the ad: “We are really sorry if anyone has been offended by the promotional image used in the Dig-In boxes. We now realize it was inappropriate and misguided of us to use this type of image as a way to raise awareness of dental health issues.”
Oh, now you realize. At any time, really, but particularly when #MeToo and #TimesUp are at the height of cultural awareness, that at least half of those 400,000 students may not find an unsolicited suggestion of fellatio hilarious and appropriate? To not realize it as soon as this idea hit the open air in whatever marketing meeting it was barfed out of takes Papa John levels of cultural ignorance. Clearly you haven’t seen the excellent 2015 doc, The Hunting Ground, or even the 2016 “Unacceptable Acceptance Letters” campaign. In the U.S., studies show that 1 in 5 women (and 1 in 16 men) will be sexually assaulted at college, and the first six weeks of college is when freshmen have the highest likelihood of being raped.
Look, if you want to be the type of brand that makes BJ jokes, that’s your prerogative. But at least have the brains to make it equal opportunity innuendo. Brushbox could have avoided much of this controversy, even with the same (idiotic) ad copy, if it had just featured a picture of a guy and a girl brushing their teeth. Instead, the brand decided to go full boor, and now it’s got thousands of potential customers who can’t get the taste of sexism out of their mouth, no matter how many times they brush.