BROADWAY — TrueCar, a Santa Monica-based online platform for helping people buy a car, is under fire on social media for a reportedly sexist commercial aimed at women.

The ad in question was originally posted on the company’s YouTube channel in March but consumers have since taken to Facebook and Twitter — with comments posted as recently as July 25 — condemning the ad for its portrayal of women as unable to purchase a car without assistance from a man, or TrueCar. Publications such as the Huffington Post, AdWeek and Business Insider have also publicized the recent outburst of criticism, fanning the digital flames.

The company’s social media handles apologized that consumers took such negative interpretations of the ad. Scott Painter, founder and CEO of TrueCar, responded to the reactions with a press statement where he explained that the “A Better Way” commercial is one of a series of ads targeting specific demographics, in this case women.

“TrueCar is about empowerment through information. We encourage a healthy dialogue and truly appreciate the passion and position. Thank you for speaking up,” Painter wrote.

Though the ad is meant to target women, Melanie Klein, an associate faculty member at Santa Monica College in sociology and women’s studies, said that its portrayal of women only served to re-enforce stereotypes of their incompetence and lack of confidence in mechanical fields — including when buying a car.

“I’ve definitely seen worse, but it certainly qualifies as sexist,” Klein said.

Lars Perner, assistant professor of clinical marketing at the USC Marshall School of Business, said that the ad can be interpreted differently depending on who is watching it. He initially did not see anything wrong with it.

Nevertheless he added that the execution of the ad — with its focus on women’s lack of confidence and the moment when an actress said “I don’t need to bring a dude with me” to buy a car — could understandably cause ire.

In his press statement, Painter defended this portrayal, citing market research.

“The truth is that many women — not all, but many — feel alienated when buying a car. This is demonstrated by the research we have gathered and in the comments from consumers responding to the media outlets that have disseminated this story,” Painter wrote.

Klein said that while certainly some women, and men, may feel uncomfortable making such a weighty financial decision, the commercial’s messages came across as though all women (not men) felt that way. She questions the research methods used to come to such a conclusion and cites the media industry’s over-reliance on one dimensional gender stereotypes at fault.

Klein also suggested the lack of women in major TrueCar leadership roles as a possible reason for why such a troubling ad was green-lit in the first place. On the company site only one woman is recognized as a management team member in the group of 12 and she oversees human resources. The gender disparity in both media and corporate settings is a troubling trend, Klein added.

“If there were an accurate representation of women in leadership roles, then this commercial would have been less likely to have run,” Klein said.

Perner affirmed that commercials in general have a reputation for portraying women in domestic roles and proposed that a less troubling tactic would have been to show more of the site’s benefits than its customers’ incompetence. For instance, he wondered if they should have shown a woman who relied on TrueCar to save time in the car buying process because she was too busy with her career.

Beyond the rehashing of media trends, both in the portrayal of women and the lack of women’s voices in major marketing decisions, Perner noted that the commercial faces an emerging digital threat.

In the past for an advertisement to spark criticism it needed to be widely broadcasted and of great importance, Perner said. Now companies are subject to instant feedback (positive and negative) from consumers online.

“Ads now have a way of taking a life of their own,” Perner said.

The commercial remains on the company’s YouTube channel and is viewable at the following link: www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=YTcOrqYTM4Y.

 

editor@smdp.com