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Those nurses sure get your motor runnin'

Pennzoil nurse ad

June 2004 -- This month's Travel and Leisure magazine includes a full page ad for Pennzoil (p. 97) featuring a wispy young female model in a way outdated, slightly suggestive white nurse's dress, feeding a tablespoon of motor oil to a needy older engine and gazing at the engine in a way that could be devotional and/or affectionate. While we've seen much worse, this ad's delicate, regressive vision of nursing plays into angelic and arguably "naughty nurse" stereotypes that do the profession no favors.

The model/nurse in the ad is young, very thin and very attractive, with arms that look as though they've literally never lifted anything as heavy as the small container of motor oil she's holding--maybe the one in the photo shoot was empty. She is about to give the engine a tablespoon (really) of the precious elixir. The text at the bottom of the ad claims that this is "the cure" for what ails older engines. The uniform is extremely regressive: a white above-the-knee dress, white stockings, white cap with a red cross, with a stethoscope around the model/nurse's neck. Her collar is open too wide for serious work, though at least we can't see any cleavage or underwear, which have been distressingly common features of recent mass media images of "nurses." The model/nurse's hair is tied up under the hat, as if she might actually be working. Her expression strikes us as more devotional than sensual, though it's in profile and hard to say for sure.

The ad's overall focus--when you include the part that's on the facing page--is on the supposed technological advantages of the product. Given that, it's interesting that they would have chosen a "nurse" for this rather than a "physician," since physicians are obviously viewed by most lay people as more technically expert than nurses. Perhaps market research suggested that motor oil buyers are somehow more engaged by the thought of a young female nurse, with a relatively subtle sensual suggestion, caring for their engines. Incidentally, nursing is actually a better fit for the kind of long-term protection and engine maintenance motor oil is supposed to provide, as opposed to the more problem-focused "cure" traditional medicine might offer, but we think the chances that occurred to anyone involved in the ad are about the same as the chances that the woman in the ad is really a nurse.

Certainly, this would have to be one of the least naughty "naughty nurse" images we have seen. And the model/nurse is, within the confines of the surreal modern advertising universe, giving a type of technically significant "care," rather than providing truly menial assistance--or her body. But what troubles us is the sheer regressiveness of the uniform and the model's expression, which, even if merely devotional, feeds the still-popular nurse-as-angel stereotype. Even allowing for the jokey context, we are not dealing with a real professional here, and we can only imagine how different the ad would have been had it featured a "physician."

Despite all our analysis that the ad isn't as bad as it could be, nonetheless, this ad is on the whole damaging to nursing's image and we should all ask Pennzoil to stop using it.

July 15, 2004 -- SUCCESS! Please see the update on this campaign.


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