"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
Photo: Martin Whitfield
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Labour MP for East Lothian Martin Whitfield: "I started an argument and ended up winning an election"

The former primary school teacher still misses home. 

Two months ago, Martin Whitfield was a primary school teacher in Prestonpans, a small town along the coast from Edinburgh. Then he got into an argument. It was a Saturday morning shortly after the snap election had been called, and he and other members of the local Labour party began discussing a rumour that the candidate would be an outsider.

“I started an argument that this was ridiculous, we couldn’t have a candidate helicoptered in,” he recalls. He pointed out that one of the main issues with the Scottish National Party incumbent, the economist and journalist George Kerevan, was that he was seen as an outsider.

“I kept arguing for an hour and a half and people started gently moving away,” he jokes. “About two days later I was still going on, and I thought enough’s enough.” 

He called Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour veteran, who interrupted him. “He said, 'Right Martin, are you going to put up or shut up?’ So I filled in the forms.

"Then I had to have a very interesting conversation with my wife.”

One successful election campaign later, he is sitting in the airy, glass-roofed atrium of Westminster’s Portcullis House. Whitfield has silver hair, glasses, and wears a Labour-red tie with his shirt. He looks every bit the approachable primary school teacher, and sometimes he forgets he isn’t anymore. 

I ask how the school reacted to his election bid, and he begins “I have”, and then corrects himself: “There is a primary four class I had the pleasure to teach.” The children wanted to know everything from where parliament was, to his views on education and independence. He took unpaid leave to campaign. 

“Actually not teaching the children was the hardest thing,” he recalls. “During the campaign I kept bumping into them when I was door-knocking.”

Whitfield was born in Newcastle, in 1965, to Labour-supporting parents. “My entire youth was spent with people who were socialists.”

His father was involved in the Theatre Workshop, founded by the left-wing director Joan Littlewood. “We were part of a community which supported each other and found value in that support in art and in theatre,” he says. “That is hugely important to me.” 

He trained as a lawyer, but grew disillusioned with the profession and retrained as a teacher instead. He and his wife eventually settled in Prestonpans, where they started a family and he “fought like mad” to work at the local school. She works as the marketing manager for the local theatre.

He believes he won his seat – one of the first to be touted as a possible Labour win – thanks to a combination of his local profile, the party’s position on independence and its manifesto, which “played brilliantly everywhere we discussed it”. 

It offered hope, he says: “As far as my doorstep discussion in East Lothian went, some people were for and against Jeremy Corbyn, some people were for and against Kezia Dugdale, but I didn’t find anyone who was against the manifesto.”

Whitfield’s new job will mean long commutes on the East Coast line, but he considers representing the constituency a “massive, massive honour”. When I ask him about East Lothian, he can’t stop talking.

“MPs do tend to say ‘my constituency’s a microcosm’, but it really is Scotland in miniature. We have a fishing industry, crabs and lobsters, the agricultural areas – the agricultural soil is second to none.” The area was also historically home to heavy industry. 

After his first week in Westminster, Whitfield caught the train back to Scotland. “That bit when I got back into East Lothian was lovely moment,” he says. “I was home.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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