Blinds to Go Doubles Down On Offensive Ad

Wrong RoadA few days ago I told you about a Blinds to Go ad that used sizeism and ageism to sell blinds.  Many people wrote to Blinds to Go to tell them that the ad was offensive and why. Rather than apologize and fix it, they’ve doubled down by apparently sending everyone – regardless of what they wrote – the same form reply full of more offensive bs.

From: kwentworth@Blinds-To-Go.com
Subject: Blinds To Go
Date: Tue, 22 Jul 2014 15:21:45 +0000

Dear [redacted],

Thank you for your comments and concerns. We would first like to apologize if we have offended you by any means. This was in no way our intent. We have been servicing customers for 60 years and strongly value diversity of all types.

Advertising is an art and we have a very short span of time to get our message across to the consumer. The yoga man commercial was intended to illustrate the lack of privacy one might have without a window covering. It is meant to be funny, and we believe it is not cruel because clearly the embarrassment of the unintended encounter is felt by both the yoga practitioner and by the couple.  A vast majority of our viewers have seen it this way as well.

The actor hired to play “yoga man” is not overly fat but actually quite fit and athletic but yes, he has a ‘stocky’ build.  In our view, stocky does not equate to fat… the actor would not see himself this way and neither do we.

Again, we apologize to anyone our ad may have offended; this was not our intent.

Thank you,
The Blinds To Go Marketing Team

Let’s start with my favorite bit – the pretend apology:  We’re sorry, we strongly value diversity, it wasn’t our intent to be offensive, now let us spend the rest of the e-mail further devaluing your experience by justifying our behavior and explaining why you’re wrong to be offended.

The reason the commercial works in a “very short span of time” is because it relies on deep rooted prejudices that exist in society allowing the joke to be told in “shorthand.”  There are lots of ways to display a need for privacy that don’t rely on stigmatizing people for how they look, but they require a marketing team to that is talented, creative, and not looking for a lazy way out.

“We believe it is not cruel because clearly the embarrassment of the unintended encounter is felt by both the yoga practitioner and by the couple.”  Translation:  If we can get an actor to portray someone who has self-hate/internalized oppression, then our use of the way he looks to imply that he should not be seen or want to be seen – even by those peeping through his windows (and should, in fact, buy our product as a way to hide himself from the world) is perfectly fine.  Those who are offended should try a little harder to develop self-hatred about their size and/or age so they can understand that they should want to hide themselves from the world – preferably with our products.

“A vast majority of our viewers have seen it this way as well.” Translation:  If we say that the vast majority of people agree with a prejudice, then that prejudice is not only valid, but ripe for our use to sell our products. We don’t know how you would get the idea that because you’re part of the group that we are stigmatizing your opinion is somehow valid or important in this discussion.

 “The actor hired to play “yoga man” is not overly fat but actually quite fit and athletic but yes, he has a ‘stocky’ build.  In our view, stocky does not equate to fat… the actor would not see himself this way and neither do we.”

Oh what in fat hell, are you serious?  “Overly fat” What is that?  And when did the Blinds to Go Marketing team become the decider of who is what body type and who is “overly” anything?

And are they actually trying to say that they didn’t use his size as part of the supposedly hilarious idea that he should spend money so that people looking into the windows of his home don’t see him?  Do they actually want us to believe that they put out a call for “A man who is quite fit and athletic to do yoga?” and that they chose this actor, not even noticing his size or age and not even aware that, because of rampant sizeism and ageism, the way he looks might be considered part of the joke they created in which seeing him do yoga is horrifying?  Is Blinds to Go also opening a real estate office to sell ocean front property in Arizona? I might be more offended that they think I’ll believe that than I am at the ad.

Nobody is obligated to exercise, and participating in fitness doesn’t make people better or worse than those who don’t, but there are plenty of fat people who participate in fitness and athletics and we often get abused, stigmatized, and bullied for doing so, so it’s really problematic to reinforce and participate in that by using the notion that people shouldn’t want to look at us (and that we should be mutually embarrassed at being seen) whether we’re “stocky” or “overly fat” or would identify ourselves as fat, and regardless of of fitness level. Responses like that of Blinds to Go are a big part of the problem.

Also, note that they are comfortable speaking for the actor (not “the actor doesn’t see himself” but “the actor would not see himself”)  Whether or not he sees himself as fat, whether or not he identifies himself as fat, whether or not the Blinds to Go Marketing team mistakenly thinks this is ok because he’s not that fat, or that fat and “fit and quite athletic” are mutually exclusive, does not change the fact that they are being told by people that it is offensive and their response is sorry, not sorry we are going to keep making jokes at your expense to sell blinds because we think the actor is cool with it.

And I notice that they don’t even bother to address the ageism issue.  Since I wrote the original post,  people have asked me how I know it’s a fat joke, or an age joke.  Here’s my sophisticated test:  If the joke doesn’t work without a fat person, then it’s a fat joke.  If a joke doesn’t work without an older person, then it’s an ageist joke. If the joke doesn’t work without a person who happens to conform to the stereotype of beauty, then it’s an appearance-based joke.  And if it does work without using fat or age or appearance, then let’s do that, because those groups already face a ton of stigma and oppression so how about we don’t add to that by making a joke at their expense just to sell some blinds. Blinds to Go isn’t too far down the toad to turnaround – they should pull the ad and apologize.

Activism Opportunity: Let them know how you feel 

Leave a note on their Facebook Page:  https://www.facebook.com/blindstogo

Tweet about it:  https://twitter.com/blindstogous @blindstogous

E-mail kwentworth@Blinds-To-Go.com and let him know how you feel

Contact customer service: or e-mail through their website:  http://www.blindstogo.com/en/contact-us

Update: Remember when I told you that a screenwriter had created a script about my life as a fat dancer?  Well that movie is now in development!   You can go to the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/danceswithfatthemovie and like it if you are so inclined which will get you info as it breaks and help us build momentum!

Looking for more skills to fight stigma and bullying? Check out the Fat Activism Conference.  Three days, 40 speakers, 30 workshops, teleconference style so that you can listen on the phone or computer from wherever you are, recorded so you can listen live or on your own time, only $39 with a pay-what-you-can option to make it accessible to as many people as possible.  Check it out!

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Published in: on July 23, 2014 at 9:24 am  Comments (22)  

22 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I was really laughing out loud at “advertising is an art”… maybe advertising that works without fat-shaming, lame sterotypes or “sex sells” may be a tiny bit artistic, but sometimes I actually doubt that advertising like that even exists. And I am so tired of people using “but it’s art” as an excuse for every bs.
    Yes, yes and yes to all your points!

  2. “What in the fat hell,” was just… brilliant! I love your sense of humor – every time I get an email that you’ve posted something new, I’m all over it. Thank you.

  3. Did you mean to write “down the toad”? The T is right next to the R, but even if it’s a typo, it has a certain flair to it.

  4. i didn’t originally write, because of lack of spoons. but you have inspired me and moved my spirit. i sent kent an email:

    dear kenny (i can call you kenny, right? i love the name kenny, from south park, you know. it’s not meant to be offensively familiar, many people are fine with randomly chosen nicknames from total strangers) –

    you might want to learn to apologize properly, since what you did there is not working as damage control; it’s known as “doubling down”, it is a mistake, and your company does not come out ahead.

    whenever you say something like “i am sorry if we offended”, it’s a fauxpology — the “if” gives it away because it turns it into a hypothetical. people are not hypothetically offended, they are actually offended, and they told you do, no if and but about it. the way this comes across is as if you’re thinking: “you’re hypersensitive losers and i wouldn’t dream of actually apologizing for our ever so clever marketing if i didn’t have to pay some lip service to do damage control”. in short, nobody buys it — you might not have been the recipient of a lot of fauxpologies, but trust me, us fat people have.

    what else marks a fauxpology: saying you strongly value diversity and then going right ahead and proving exactly how limited your idea of “diversity” is. because you proceed immediately to further devalue the experiences of the people who wrote to you — maybe they’re overly diverse for you? you apparently value only “not overly fat” people (who made you the decider what is and isn’t “overly” fat?) — well, at least you value them as the butt of your joke. read, you think you can get away with it if you protest that the actor isn’t really fat, but just “stocky”, or “chubby” or whatever else the weasel word is this month, while you’re tapping into the precise stereotypes and prejudices against people you’d consider overly fat. and don’t pretend you know what the actor thinks. he has very likely been a frequent victim of size prejudice despite not being “overly” fat. we all know how looks conscious the film and television industry is. you picked him for his non-slim physique, do you actually think he doesn’t know that? we’re fat, not stupid.

    oh, and advertising is an art, and your artistes have managed to use the very short span of time to get your message across to your customers by directly appealing to deeply held prejudice and shame. congratulations! the artistry stuns me. in truth i find your ad boringly predictable, because this is what advertising hacks always do. it is of course possible to create ads showing a need for privacy without exploiting prejudice, but coming up with something truly clever does make demands on actual artists. maybe you were too cheap to hire those. or too prejudiced to tell the difference between hackery and art.

    then you go forth into that breach with more fauxpology markers: it’s meant to be FUNNY! can’t we take a joke? i can’t tell you how often i hear this from people who make racist, sexist, and homophobic jokes as well — you’re in such fabulously dense company! when somebody’s feelings get hurt it’s clearly never the fault of the person who made the insensitive joke; those darkies, pussies, fags, and fatsos just have to grow a thicker skin!

    it’s not meant to be cruel! because by no means would depicting somebody’s internalized self-hatred and insecurity ever be cruel. somebody who fears being seen because of his appearance is being encouraged to use your product to hide himself away (even though of course he’s not “overly” fat — implying just how much more those of us who ARE “overly” fat need to hide ourselves away). and that’s not cruel how exactly? are those crickets i hear? kenny?

    and lastly, of course, the appeal to the hordes of lurkers who support you in email — because having lots of other people laugh at prejudice and an insensitive joke is proof that it’s not a problem!

    you’re batting a big, overly fat zero, kenny.

    without regards,
    pir

    • I gained great joy from reading that, thank you.

  5. Huh, I didn’t get a reply. Then, I’m not sure they wanted to piss me off any further. My complaint email barely stopped short of the words, “first against the wall when the revolution comes.” >:D

    (If I haven’t been myself lately, I’ve been sick. My long and gruesome history with infections tells me I may have been walking around with pneumonia. When I get sick, any control I have of my temper runs and hides.)

  6. Thanks for a great rebuttal blog on all the salient points, Ragen. I figured that what I’d received was probably a “form” email, but it’s still disappointing to have it confirmed beyond a doubt. I started to skim their response when I saw the phrase “advertising is an art,” because I knew loads of justification, or rather b.s., was coming. My favourite part (there were so many, it’s hard to choose!) was their speaking on behalf of the actor, what he would think/feel. So presumptuous it’s breathtaking.

  7. I think another thing that’s REALLY grating is that it would be so EASY to make this *exact same commercial* sans sizeism/fatphobia. Literally, the dude (in his own darn home) could be doing ANY EMBARRASSING THING AT ALL. But they chose to make it so that seeing his body is what was embarrassing. What a coincidence. I’m sure.

    Also, Ragen: Do they actually want us to believe that they put out a call for “A man who is quite fit and athletic to do yoga?” All of this. I am an actor too (Chicago) and I would bet the last paycheck from my day job that the call for this role was MUCH different from that.

    • They could even have done the exact same thing and focused it on his embarrassment of other people seeing his junk say by frantically covering his crotch. That would make the joke not his age or body type but his nudity itself which is far more universal and not shaming.

  8. Wow. Just wow.

    Not only are they clueless about the meaning of systemic prejudice, they are also psychic, because they know precisely how the actor they chose to be fat, old yoga dude feels about his body, and it’s just fine.

    Peeping Toms ought to be embarrassed because they are caught staring at things they have no business peeking at, not because the person they are staring at is doing something they didn’t expect an older, heavier man to be doing. H’e over forty, he doesn’t sport a six-pack, he’s hairy… clearly he can’t be doing yoga! And that’s what these two are reacting to. They are not reacting to being caught deliberately staring through someone else’s window. Meanwhile, why should anyone exercising in their own living room – no matter their size, age, distribution of body hair, gender, or choice of physical fitness activity – be embarrassed because someone else is watching them without permission?

    Annoyed, absolutely. Incensed, quite possibly. Embarrassed? Why the hell? It presumes there is something wrong with either the person doing the exercise or the exercise itself. There is nothing wrong with being older. There is nothing wrong with being any damn size there is to be. There is nothing wrong with yoga.

    The embarrassment only makes sense if what yoga man is doing is somehow shameful. I, for one, see nothing whatsoever wrong with anyone choosing a form of exercise that makes them feel good.

    There are plenty of things that would quite reasonably be surprising or embarrassing if one got caught doing them by random strangers. There are other practical reasons why having a shadeless window might be unfortunate, from trying to watch a movie during the day in a room that gets lots of sun to window-shaped fading on the furniture to local thieves being able to case your joint with a great deal less difficulty than they ought to have. Any one of these would take just as little time to establish.

    But I guess if we can’t shame someone for living past forty and no longer looking like a heartthrob on the cover of a teen fan magazine, well, it just isn’t funny.

    • “The embarrassment only makes sense if what yoga man is doing is somehow shameful.”

      This, exactly. That was what I was going to say. Their explanation only makes sense If we’re to assume that the yoga man is doing something he shouldn’t be. And why would anyone doing yoga in their own home be embarrassed by it? The only angle that make sense in this scenario is that we’re supposed to find it embarrassing because of the man’s appearance. Nothing else makes sense so any kind of explanation they try to give saying otherwise is obviously crap.

  9. My response to their lame response:

    “Oh, then I guess it’s OK since you ‘in no way’ intended to be offensive.

    “Except that it’s not OK. When someone tells you you’ve been offensive by using discriminatory or prejudicial stereotypes, the best response is to sit back and really listen to what they have to say. Then, you have the opportunity to learn from the situation and say, ‘I didn’t realize how that came across. We won’t do that again. Thank you for letting us know.’ That’s a much better response than simply defending a poor choice and saying the equivalent of ‘everyone’s doing it,’ which is pretty much the worst reason for doing anything.

    “I would really like for you to read an article that dissects your canned answer to those of us who take issue with your commercial. You can find it here: http://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/…/blinds-to-go…/

    “I hope that next time you create an ad, you will look at it from *all* points of view.”

  10. I felt that just “man doing yoga” was a big part of it. I rarely see men in yoga class. The only guys I see there are there cause their girlfriends are in the class and asked them to join. But it’s usually like one or two guys. I also rarely see straight young men in ballroom dancing class. The only men in ballroom classes are older. Such a shame! Most straight young men I know feel that dancing with girls is somehow “gay.”

    So to me it’s 3 things. Male, overweight, older.

    I would also offer this for thought. I wouldn’t want such a visible living room regardless of what I am doing. I also don’t like people watching me exercising regardless of my body size. I would like to see the ad redone with a stereotypical “hawt chick” looking girl. Do you think it wouldn’t have worked? If the couple sees a thin young girl doing yoga and everyone looks at each other in shock? If I were a thin girl doing yoga in my living room I would feel embarrassed to see that people just walking by on the street can see into my living room so well. (I’m assuming the yoga guy just bought/rented this place because he would have been noticing how visible his living room is before now.)

    • I wish he’d been doing karaoke in really tacky clothes a la Weird Al. THAT would have been hilarious.

  11. I know that Blinds to Go apparently isn’t very interested in understanding, but the way it occurred to me is to imagine if the roles were reversed. A commercial that showed a couple buying blinds because they didn’t want to see a fat person passing by while out for a run would make the prejudice more obvious.

    And yet, what they actually came up with bothers me more, because it implies that we not only owe it to others to be aesthetically according to the whims of random passersby, we somehow now owe it to them while we’re in our homes and our privacy is being at least mildly violated.

    What in the fat hell, indeed.

  12. This is the reply I sent yesterday, once I’d calmed down enough to think clearly. I was pretty livid, and for me, this reply just made it quite clear that they don’t care about being part of a greater problem… it was definitely more offensive than the ad itself.

    Kimberly,

    I appreciate you taking the time to reply. I have one question to ask you. Do you honestly think that, had this commercial featured a conventionally pretty young woman it would have the same level of “humor?” I just don’t see it. You could possibly make the argument that it’s a man doing yoga that makes it funny, but frankly, that’s problematic, too, because then we’re playing with gender stereotypes. Translation… this ad just isn’t funny, and I’m hardly the only one to feel that way.

    http://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/2014/07/18/blinds-to-go-no-no/

    http://dropitandeat.blogspot.com/2014/05/fat-and-always-hungry-no-cutting-carbs.html

    While the latter post is not specifically about the commercial, this comment (which you can read below the post) is:

    “‘Sure, having more fat cells may contribute to our struggle if attempting to lose weight. But it’s not simply a macronutrient issue. Being larger presents more challenges for being active; larger individuals report being subjected to fat shaming while exercising—presenting its own challenges.’

    A prime example of this is the Blinds to go commercial. Here a overweight man is doing yoga in his own living room, and is seen by thin people passing by, oh did I mention they were horrified at the sight.

    The message is clear, the only place fat people should exercise is hidden behind blinds, so the normal people don’t have to see us.

    Exercising is hard enough, this makes it even harder.”

    Honestly, I’m not even remotely surprised most of your viewers found it funny… fat shaming is often quite comedic to those who haven’t personally experienced it. Even worse, it’s sadly become a socially acceptable pastime. The intent of my original message was to open a dialogue about why this is not acceptable. Even comments like “he (or she) isn’t even overly fat” are upsetting because the implication is that there IS a point at which it is okay to mock fatness. What constitutes “fat enough to mock” will vary from person to person, but that doesn’t mean that the fat shamed person you perceive as ‘thin” isn’t affected by the ridicule, and that doesn’t make the taunts permissible.

    There was a recent debacle with a brilliantly talented opera singer, where all one reviewer could focus on was her weight. Public support was nearly entirely in her favor as, the truth is, the young woman in question is probably “average” sized. To most people this prompted an immediate outcry of “but she’s not even that fat!” The meaning there is fairly implicit. At some point, she could be fat enough to justify those sorts of comments, nevermind her incredible talent that earned her the job in the first place… her body would be open season on fat shame, but only if she’d been fatter.

    Again, I do appreciate the reply. However, based on this type of advertising and the content of this response, I will look elsewhere the next time I need blinds.

    Sincerely,
    Jessica

    • That was an excellent and well-thought-out reply. I hope it at least makes someone think a little bit.

  13. Once again, they give cookie cutter responses and once again this how not to get my business.

  14. Well here is an ad idea, that might counter theirs…What if Yoga Man still with no window covers…had a whole bunch of people out side his window doing yoga too, as if he was the instructor…No need for blinds and this company at all.

    I was also trying to think…( as I do think advertising is an art )…what could be going on that would need to be covered….serial killer hacking someone to death? What if they had done a tie in with Dexter…? Probably that would have been too expensive. But it would be funny and fast.

    • Ha! That would be funny in a horribly disturbing way. Someone above mentioned bad karaoke as another good option. Other ideas, just off the top of my head:

      -someone dancing around in their underwear with a vacuum

      -someone with plans spread out on a coffee table saying “This invention will make me millions” as a shifty-looking person stands outside their window taking notes

      -a partially dressed couple making out when the one facing the window suddenly looks horrified and says “Grandma!” and the other says “She wasn’t supposed to get here until tomorrow!” and Grandma, standing outside, drops her suitcases in shock and looks shocked and appalled.

      And that’s just what a bunch of blog commenters can come up with in a few minutes. The people who get paid to do this stuff should really be *at least* that creative.

      I think they could’ve done a hilarious whole series of “You need blinds. Now” commercials without once playing into body stereotypes.

      • Why not flip the “Grandma!” one? Slowly zoom in on someone in their early twenties holding a suitcase and staring in shock. The moment you can see just their face, they whisper, “But where’s Grandpa?”

        Cut to a shot through the open drapes of Grandma in a sexy flapper dress with some hot young thing on her lap! The moment Grandpa dances into scene wearing pasties and holding a video camera, the shot pans back to the grandchild’s suitcase bursting open as it hits the ground. Card, white text on black screen reads: Reason #234 You Need Blinds: Happy Birthday, Grandma!

  15. Excellent post, Ms. R


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