Parker Molloy
October 06, 2014 11:38 am

In one of their more bizarre and ill-advised marketing decisions, Subway decided to get in on the Halloween action by running an ad that both appealed to women’s perceived desire to look “sexy” on the holiday and men’s desire to gawk at the aforementioned hot women. Win-win, right? Not so much. The ad, which has been widely panned as sexist, suggests that women need to watch what they eat (and therefore eat at Subway) if they’re going to be ready for their Halloween costumes. Sigh.

The ad features two women and a man sitting down to eat lunch. The central character looks to her friends, shocked. “You guys are eating burgers?”

“Hey, Summer’s over,” the other woman says.

“Halloween’s coming,” the woman sitting in front of an impeccably-positioned Subway sandwich (Really, who sits with the opening of their sandwich facing away from them, anyway?). You’ve got to stay in shape for all the costumes.”

She goes on to do a series of quick changes, modeling what she describes as “the attractive nurse,” “spicy red riding hood,” “viking princess warrior,” “hot devil,” “sassy teacher,” and a “foxy fullback.”

The commercial ends with a voice over, saying, “Whatever you’re staying fit for, start at Subway.”

The ad’s message is essentially, “Hey! Eat healthy, ladies. There’s an event that requires you to be human eye candy at the end of the month. Don’t be a slob-monster.”

Now, I’m not certain what everyone else does during their lunch breaks, but I can’t say that I’ve ever used the time to toss on some sexy outfits and model half-naked for my co-workers while giving them a lecture about fast food.

After the ad was slammed on Twitter and in the news as being sexist, Subway appears to have pulled it from their YouTube channel.

Over at Time, Laura Stampler highlights something I missed on first pass. While the chain plays on the “sexy” stereotype, the ad manages to not once actually say the word “sexy,” and instead describes the costumes in an awkward, “This-is-as-far-as-our-lawyers-let-us-push-things” kind of manner.

“Except, Subway clearly isn’t allowed to say sexy. Rather, it’s a ‘hot devil’ (too literal), ‘sassy teacher’ (literally smacking a ruler against her hand), ‘foxy fullback’ (please, let’s get into how women feel about the NFL right now), and our personal favorite, ‘attractive nurse.’”

While there are dozens of criticisms of the ad and of “sexy” Halloween culture, in general, one headline sums up why the ad is so troublesome in the first place. “Subway Thinks You’re Too Fat For Your Halloween Costume,” reads a headline at xoJane.

That’s precisely it. This type of advertising is meant to shame women about their bodies, and to adjust their lifestyle accordingly (i.e. “Eat at Subway!”). Generally, marketers try to present their product as something relatable to the target. In this case, what they did is more along the lines of what “pick up artists” do. This is a tactic right out of their own playbook, in which you give a woman a backhanded compliment (in this case, “Hey, you can totally pull off a sexy Halloween outfit . . . if you diet.”), wait for the insult to hit home, taking a toll on the woman’s self-esteem, and then take advantage of her vulnerability.

If you want to wear a “sexy” Halloween outfit — yes, even “Sexy Olaf” — go for it! Just don’t let society or a fast food chain guilt you into it. Eat what you want, and wear what you want!

In the meantime, check out the ad for yourself right here:

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