"Engineered for men": the rise of "Yorkie" advertising

The ADgenda: this week's most offensive advert.

IWC’s new advertising campaign has been released in cinemas, currently thundering over the big screen in all its majestic manly glory. I first saw it played before the new Bond film, so naturally I was already on edge for flippant sexism. However, the bulk of the advert has no problems (other than a failure to mention time-telling at any point). For the most part we are just enjoying fighter pilots swooping around and ships crashing through waves while IWC journey through their various partnerships. On the big screen, this drama makes us feel like we are all part of these journeys. But at the very end, we realise that we are not. The punchline is the final phrase “engineered for men”.

After watching soul-lightening accomplishments and adventures through seas and skies, this tagline really stings. There is a noticeable emphasis from the narrator on the “for men”, as if I have been slapped on the wrist for showing interest in something that isn’t compatible for my gender. I am reminded of the Yorkie bar’s advertising campaign “it’s not for girls!”, but that slogan only feels like a “no girls allowed” sign hung on the blanket fort built by your little brother (and anyway, serves more as reverse psychology than divisive marketing). This, however, feels like Grown-Up Sexism. They sell men’s watches, so they must be defined to be as masculine as possible, not just in their bulky style but in the images conveying male brawn so bold you can smell the sweating: fighter planes, boats in storms, diving barefoot with sharks – it all builds up to this brazen slogan “engineered for men”.

IWC know their market. You’re male? Good, you’ll be shooting guns through the sky and wrestling wild animals, you’ll need to tell time on something engineered. You’re female? Honey, you don’t need engineering. Here, have something decorated or fashioned. Have fun shopping, and stay away from Yorkie bars.

IWC’s new advertising campaign. Photograph: youtube.com
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Boris Johnson is right about Saudi Arabia - but will he stick to his tune in Riyadh?

The Foreign Secretary went off script, but on truth. 

The difference a day makes. On Wednesday Theresa May was happily rubbing shoulders with Saudi Royalty at the Gulf Co-operation Council summit and talking about how important she thinks the relationship is.

Then on Thursday, the Guardian rained on her parade by publishing a transcript of her Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, describing the regime as a "puppeteer" for "proxy wars" while speaking at an international conference last week.

We will likely never know how she reacted when she first heard the news, but she’s unlikely to have been happy. It was definitely off-script for a UK foreign secretary. Until Johnson’s accidental outburst, the UK-Saudi relationship had been one characterised by mutual backslapping, glamorous photo-ops, major arms contracts and an unlimited well of political support.

Needless to say, the Prime Minister put him in his place as soon as possible. Within a few hours it was made clear that his words “are not the government’s views on Saudi and its role in the region". In an unequivocal statement, Downing Street stressed that Saudi is “a vital partner for the UK” and reaffirmed its support for the Saudi-led air strikes taking place in Yemen.

For over 18 months now, UK fighter jets and UK bombs have been central to the Saudi-led destruction of the poorest country in the region. Schools, hospitals and homes have been destroyed in a bombing campaign that has created a humanitarian catastrophe.

Despite the mounting death toll, the arms exports have continued unabated. Whitehall has licensed over £3.3bn worth of weapons since the intervention began last March. As I write this, the UK government is actively working with BAE Systems to secure the sale of a new generation of the same fighter jets that are being used in the bombing.

There’s nothing new about UK leaders getting close to Saudi Arabia. For decades now, governments of all political colours have worked hand-in-glove with the arms companies and Saudi authorities. Our leaders have continued to bend over backwards to support them, while turning a blind eye to the terrible human rights abuses being carried out every single day.

Over recent years we have seen Tony Blair intervening to stop an investigation into arms exports to Saudi and David Cameron flying out to Riyadh to meet with royalty. Last year saw the shocking but ultimately unsurprising revelation that UK civil servants had lobbied for Saudi Arabia to sit on the UN Human Rights Council, a move which would seem comically ironic if the consequences weren’t so serious.

The impact of the relationship hasn’t just been to boost and legitimise the Saudi dictatorship - it has also debased UK policy in the region. The end result is a hypocritical situation in which the government is rightly calling on Russian forces to stop bombing civilian areas in Aleppo, while at the same time arming and supporting Saudi Arabia while it unleashes devastation on Yemen.

It would be nice to think that Johnson’s unwitting intervention could be the start of a new stage in UK-Saudi relations; one in which the UK stops supporting dictatorships and calls them out on their appalling human rights records. Unfortunately it’s highly unlikely. Last Sunday, mere days after his now notorious speech, Johnson appeared on the Andrew Marr show and, as usual, stressed his support for his Saudi allies.

The question for Johnson is which of these seemingly diametrically opposed views does he really hold? Does he believe Saudi Arabia is a puppeteer that fights proxy wars and distorts Islam, or does he see it as one of the UK’s closest allies?

By coincidence Johnson is due to visit Riyadh this weekend. Will he be the first Foreign Secretary in decades to hold the Saudi regime accountable for its abuses, or will he cozy up to his hosts and say it was all one big misunderstanding?

If he is serious about peace and about the UK holding a positive influence on the world stage then he must stand by his words and use his power to stop the arms sales and hold the UK’s "puppeteer" ally to the same standard as other aggressors. Unfortunately, if history is anything to go by, then we shouldn’t hold our breath.

Andrew Smith is a spokesman for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk.