A toothbrush subscription service has apologised after one of its adverts targeted at new university students was branded “sexual harrassment”.
An advert for BrushBox, found in University of Sussex Dig-In welcome boxes for freshers students, featured a woman dribbling toothpaste from her open mouth.
Accompanying text on the opposite side read: “Whether you spit or swallow as part of your (twice…) daily oral regimen, place your oral health on autopilot with Brushbox”.
The card, originally posted on parenting website Mumsnet, was was widely circulated on Facebook and Twitter and called out by social media users for its reference to pornographic scenes and misogynistic nature.
Feminist street art movement The Untameable Shrews shared the post on Twitter, adding: “Young woman is accepted to the University of Sussex and this is in her welcome bag. WTF @SussexUni Do you have any respect for women? This is sexual harassment”.
Another user tweeted: “This is some of the most objectionable marketing I’ve ever seen @brushboxuk. How on earth did you think this was a good idea? Sexist, demeaning and offensive.”
BrushBox apologised for the “misguided” campaign, and acknowledged it was “derogatory to women”.
It said in a statement: “We’re are really sorry if anyone has been offended by the promotional image used in the Dig-In boxes. We now realise it was inappropriate and misguided of us to use this type of image as a way to raise awareness of dental health issues.
“We completely understand that the image could be deemed as derogatory to women and for that we are truly sorry – this was never our intention, and we take full responsibility for any upset it has caused.
“BrushBox is a company which prides itself on its family and ethical ethos and we are very disappointed that something which was meant to encourage good health habits amongst students has caused any offence.”
This is sexual grooming, telling women that this is what men expect from them and this is what you're supposed to enjoy. The Untameable Shrews
The Untameable Shrews told HuffPost UK of the promotional material: “It’s obviously giving the message that this is how men view women. It is sexual harassment and is intimidating for women.
“The message relates to blow jobs and the image is ‘the money shot’ from porn and looks exactly like a porn actress who has just been ejaculated on. This is sexual grooming, telling women that this is what men expect from them and this is what you’re supposed to enjoy.
“Surely Sussex University know about the high rates of sexual assaults on campus and the #MeToo movement. I honestly don’t know how this even made it past the design phase. It’s not funny or clever, just completely juvenile.”
The University of Sussex Students’ Union, which distributes Dig-In boxes to new starters, said it would consider whether to cut ties with BrushBox.
A spokesperson added: “We were very disappointed to find this promotional material in our Dig-In boxes, and will be reviewing whether to renew our contract with this supplier.”
A statement from the University of Sussex said: “We can absolutely see why this promotional material in our Students’ Union’s freshers packs has sparked such a strong reaction. We’re sure this discussion will continue and that our Students’ Union and other student unions will feed back the reaction to the company responsible.”
It follows a post on Mumsnet by user DukeOfSussex, which read: “If your teenage daughter had her first week at the University fo Sussex this week this is what found (sic) in her welcome bag. A Pot Noodle, A tablet of washing detergent, a sim card and an individual sized portion of instant coffee.
“AND a picture of a woman designed to look like she has spunk dripping down her face to sell toothbrushes.”
The user criticised other material found in the welcome bag for “objectifying its female students”, including adverts around campus depicting a “dead-eyed half-naked woman laying in an empty bath”.