The Jibe That Backfired; Patricia Hewitt Told (Women Only) Journalists That This 'Sexist' Advert for the Motor Show Was Pathetic. in Fact, It Was Created for Women. by Women

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Byline: CLARE KITCHEN;DAVID WILKES;NEIL LYNDON

IT seems she thought she was speaking up on behalf of the modern woman.

Indeed, at a quick glance it would be easy to agree with Patricia Hewitt's verdict that this poster for the British International Motor Show is sexist and outdated.

A seductive brunette in lacy bra poses alongside the caption, 'The other way to your man's heart is down the M6 and off at junction 4', a reference to the route to the show's venue, the National Exhibition Centre, near Birmingham.

But yesterday, as it became clear that the campaign was conceived with a touch of irony by a female advertising team aiming to appeal to the female sense of humour, it had to be asked whether it was Miss Hewitt who had taken a wrong turn.

Certainly, if accusations of sexism were being thrown around, some in the motor industry were questioning the Trade and Industry Secretary and Minister for Women's inexplicable decision to brief only women journalists on her concerns.

She spoke out against the advert to an exclusively female group of political journalists ahead of her visit yesterday to the Motor Show.

It was not clear last night why her aides selected women reporters as best able to cover the story, but Westminster insiders said it appeared she believed she would get a more sympathetic hearing. Once at the show, however, she seemed happy to reiterate her views to men.

Dressed in a grey pinstripe trouser suit, white blouse and pearl necklace, Miss Hewitt, said: 'That poster was seen by millions of people and it reinforced an awful lot of oldfashioned stereotypes.

'I do think the Motor Show let itself down with this silly poster.' Her comments left the show's organisers, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), slightly bemused.

Head of communications Al Clarke said it had originally appeared in Hello!

and OK! magazines specifically with the aim of appealing to women.

'The advert was created by a team of women and aimed primarily at women readers. It is not a leery, let's ogle at woman thing, but an ironic joke saying it's not just sex men are interested in, it's cars too,' he said.

'After the advert first appeared there was one complaint made about it to the Advertising Standards Authority, but they found no problem and did not uphold the complaint.' The poster's creator also criticised Miss Hewitt last night, accusing her of

attacking the advert to get media attention for herself.

Jackie Daley said the advert, which was also later used on billboard posters, had been designed for women's magazines.

'It's part of a series intended to show the Motor Show isn't just for petrol heads but for ordinary people who like cars,' she added.

'There's another advert that the minister has attacked which shows a father and son going to the Motor Show as something

they can share together and can talk to each other about.

'We could have used a daughter instead, as the minister suggested, but our research shows that men have a different sort of relationship with their daughters and so the message wouldn't have been the same.' Miss Daley described the controversy surrounding the advert as 'fantastic'. She said: 'We couldn't buy this publicity. I think the minister is using this as a platform to get media attention for herself, as well as for women working in the car industry.' The advert was masterminded by London-based The Marketing Store, which also numbers McDonald's, Ribena and Doritos among its clients.

Its bra- clad star, 26-year- old Georgina Sycamore, seen most recently in the Smirnoff Ice television adverts, is on the books of London model agency Profile. Her booker Michelle De La Motte-Rice said: 'Any kind of lingerie campaign seems to attract this sort of comment these days. …