This Skittles Ad Isn’t Rapey. It’s Still Kinda Sexist.

Why deconstruct a fun, innocent ad? Because advertising shapes the way we see each other.

Go ahead and take a look at this new commercial for Skittles. Tell me: Funny? Gross? Funny-Gross? Maybe … rapey?

Right now, you’re probably gasping at the notion of “rapey-ness” with this ad. Truth be told, I wouldn’t bring it up, except for two things:

• It features a stolen kiss, much like the Audi Super Bowl ad that I called “rapey”to a lot of criticism—last winter.

Bob Marshall, a writer for Media Bistro’s “Agency Spy” advertising blog, indirectly called me out on the matter, referencing my earlier Audi criticism in discussing the Skittles ad.

The last time we saw a non-adult steal a kiss in a nationwide campaign was with “Prom,” Audi’s Superbowl spot from earlier this year which some people called “rape-y” and positioned Audi as “promoters of sexual assault.” Will a similar outcry occur at the defense of the candy-toothed victim in this spot? No, of course not, and feel free to get all outraged about that in the comments if that’s how you feel like spending your Wednesday.

Marshall raises a fair question: If it’s rapey for the goose, is it rapey for the gander? The answer: Probably not, at least in this case.

But that doesn’t mean the ad is benign. Like the Audi ad before it, it’s using sex—or the adolescent version of it—to sell a product. When that happens, it’s worth examining what the ad then tells us about sex, and the way that men and women (or their junior versions) interact.

First, let’s go back and look at the Audi ad:

Our meek high schooler somehow becomes sexually powerful once he gets behind the wheel of the right car: You sense the makers of the ad would’ve been just as happy to use old Tom Cruise footage from Magnolia. What makes it rapey? Like I said before: The young woman at the climax of this ad has chosen to be at the prom with someone else; our hero jams his mouth against hers without permission, without introduction—he’s claiming a trophy more than committing an act of passion. And in the end, our hero is still alone—signaling that the young woman still preferred the company of another man. No matter: Our hero is triumphant for having stolen the kiss.

Let’s be honest here: The Skittles ad is goofier and less cock-thrusting than Audi’s creation. It’s still problematic. Let’s look at what happens with this stolen kiss:

• The young woman and her friend view the (apparently plain, shy) young man with a measure of, if not contempt, then pity.

• The young woman kisses the young man only upon seeing the mouthful of Skittles.

• At the end of the kiss, the young man is left without his “teeth”—the young woman walks away, chewing on her mouthful of candy.

Yes, the kiss is stolen—she’s making a huge assumption that he even wants to be kissed—but we don’t see anything but a smile on his face. Given the nature of 30-second storytelling, let’s give the benefit of the doubt here: Not rapey. Understand: We’re inferring this from the story clues, not just the gender reversal.

But there’s that outstanding question: What does the ad tell us about sex, then?

In this case: That women use sex to obtain the things they want from men they don’t even find attractive. This ad’s story isn’t about rape—it’s about another misogynistic trope, the gold-digging slut. (Or the candy-digging slut, if you will.) Once again: Somebody has taken advantage of somebody, using sex as power to claim what they want. And yeah, there’s still something kind of unhealthy about that notion.

A slightly tweaked ad might send an entirely different message. What if, upon seeing the boy smile, the girl smiled back. Cut to the two of them walking through a field of Skittle-colored flowers and rainbows—each choosing to be with each other, each enjoying each other’s quirks, neither robbing the other of anything? You still get the positive message for Skittles, you still get the goofiness, but … you get it in more positive terms.

(We haven’t even discussed the ad’s screaming “FRENCH THE RAINBOW!!!!” tagline, which gave a friend of mine fits. “If it turns out this is airing on regular TV, and I have to explain the punchline to my children . . . ” he muttered darkly, never finishing the threat.)

Final question: Is the commercial worth all this bother?

I don’t need to spend my days deconstructing commercials along gender lines: This is why I watch Netflix. But for most of us—and for our children—this kind of advertising is constantly in the air, both appealing to our perceptions and actively shaping them. So it’s worth asking what we’re absorbing from those messages. I’m not interested in ruining the fun; I just want to make sure the fun doesn’t ruin me.

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  • whizwit

    You’re an idiot

  • saintsaucey

    Why is the writer an idiot?

  • Deanna Ballard

    You’re OBVIOUSLY interested in ruining the fun. They changed the tagline and now it’s not as funny. Kids have to grow up. Live up to the parental obligations you accepted and help your kids understand because they’ll learn one way or the other. Sounds like you read more into the commercials than kids do.

  • William Bradford

    So basically every time a mother kisses her child that’s a sexual act?

  • Eddie P Elfman

    Oh god! What a bunch of crap!!! the commercial is FUNNY — the alternative script you suggested is a crumpled ball of paper in an overflowing trashcan. The girl is the same girl from the Sprint “I’m a zombie” ad — I can’t wait to see her next commercial.

  • Steven A

    Ok, I NEVER respond to these…everyone’s entitled to their own opinion,etc etc. But just this once I feel that I HAVE to make an exception.There are several reasons (within your own statements!) that are contradictory and confusing. First of all, nearly every guy at some point in his life had fantasized about grabbing the prom queen, planting one on her and seeing what happens. The Audi commercial is obviously referencing that. It also shows the kid’s expression changing when his dad hands him the keys…why? Who knows. It may be as shallow as you imply. It may also be that the Audi is his father’s pride and joy luxury car and the kid is happy because he knows his dad trusts him and is in his corner.
    On to the skittles commercial. I’ll give you the way the girls act when they talk about the kid. Being a dad to a little girl myself, I’ll agree that “French the rainbow” is a little much. BUT, the red haired girl first tickles his neck to get him to smile, which he does. Only then does she kid’s him, which he obviously could’ve pulled away from if he didn’t like it. He didn’t. I’d be willing to bet that you’ve never experienced a moment of overwhelming passion, attraction, call it what you will, but I’ve kissed and been kissed almost as quickly. I certainly never felt “raped”, even if I wasn’t into it. I’m pretty certain that anyone who ever HAS been raped or molested would be angered and disgusted with your implication and the ease with which you throw that word around, not to mention what your definition of that particularly horrible crime ensues.
    Last, but not least, you talk about how it must have been ok in the skittles ad, because of the smiles. Well try watching the end of the Audi ad again. The kid smiles and screams with glee through his black eye, yes….and SO DOES THE PROM QUEEN. They flash back to her at the very end, where she has a moment of shock, followed by a small, surprised, secretive smile.
    The ONLY reason you seem compelled to differentiate at all is because the sexes of the kissers/kissed are reversed. Well guess what…they both took a chance, they both smiled, they both could’ve objected. They didn’t. As a final note, assuming that you’ve read objectively and even gotten to the end of my response, you may want to apologize to any people who have been the victims of actual sexual assault, for being sexist AND for obviously only seeing what you wanted to in order to have a point to make to begin with.

  • erica b

    I never comment on blogs, but I have to say you are reading FAR too much into these ads…..You’re reaaaallly stretching to make your points that are kind of ridiculous. I googled this skittles commercial personally because I just think it’s gross and I wanted to see if other people were grossed out by the concept …But to say either commercials have any sense of rapeyness to them is ridiculous.

    As someone in the field of psychology I am always looking at some deeper meaning to them but I truly believe you have taken this one too far. In the Audi commercial, he obviously has a crush or some secret school boy lust for this girl and (while a stupid concept) driving a “cool car’ gave him the confidence to feel cool and empowered and kissed her. He didn’t touch her in a private place, force her down in any way, etc… He left alone because her boyfriend beat the crap out of him and he probably ran out of there right after with an adrenaline rush….And if you paid attention to the ending they show her again and she seemed pretty enchanted by his kiss. She didn’t look disgusted, fearful, or abused. Kissing and sex are not the same thing. If he had swooped in and took her away and then they show a scene of the car rocking and steamed up that would be a whole other story. Kissing someone is not rape.

    And as far the skittles commercial is concerned, again it’s just gross. It’s not rapey or trying to display some hidden message that women are gold diggers. Skittles slogan is taste the rainbow. A girl sees a guy with skittles teeth and eats them. It’s a gross concept… But that’s all there is to it. Don’t make it into something it’s not. She only approached him in the first place because her friend commented on how he never smiles…It had nothing to do with some secret agenda to get something out of him.

  • Elen Smithee

    Wow… what is your problem? Are you schizotypal or something, reading inappropriately deeply into harmless fun?

  • Elen Smithee

    What a perv you must be, to automatically go there…