The Bavarian Bier Cafe has been slammed for treating women like meat in their latest advertisement, and for attempting to “buy off” critics with a donation to a breast cancer charity.

The ad features the slogan “We’ve got the best racks” above an image of two women wearing low cut dresses sitting on either side of a fully dressed man. The image features the hashtag #bestrack.

When the ad appeared on Facebook, the company announced that for every rack of ribs sold, they would donate $1 to breast cancer charity The Treasure Chest. (UPDATE: Bavarian Bier Cafes have provided bmag with a statement confirming $1 from every rack of ribs sold will be donated to Treasure Chest between now and the end of October. The company has raised $65,000 for Treasure Chest to date.)

The ad appeared in September, but made headlines this weekend after it was called out by Collective Shout, a grassroots campaign targeting “corporations, advertisers, marketers and media which objectify women and sexualise girls to sell products and services”. They’re urging their followers to boycott the Bavarian Bier Cafe, located at Eagle St Pier in Brisbane, until the ad is pulled and the company apologises.

Bavarian Bier Cafe

Collective Shout’s Brisbane spokesperson Melinda Liszewski told bmag that, rather than making up for the ad’s poor taste, the donation to a breast cancer charity simply adds insult to injury.

“We’ve got women literally being compared to a piece of meat,” she says, “and they’re actually trying to justify this ad campaign with a donation to a breast cancer charity… I can’t quite get my head around what they were thinking when they did that. It’s the sexual objectification of women we often see with advertising, but then there’s another layer of exploitation on top, which is that they’re exploiting a breast cancer charity and they’re exploiting the existence of a deadly disease.

“There are companies that produce these sleazy advertisements, and then they say, ‘Hey, look, we’re going to donate to a breast cancer charity!’ It seems to me that they do this to cleanse their campaign of any criticism. That’s what I see here, and I’m disgusted with it. I know women who have undergone breast cancer treatment, it is a horrible thing to have to go through, and to see it trivialised in this way is disgusting.”

While the ad drew complaints on the Bavarian Bier Cafe’s Facebook page, some stood up for the eatery, pointing out that “a donation is a donation”, regardless of where it comes from. Melinda doesn’t agree.

“I would say that you can’t pay us off. You can’t sexually objectify women, because sexual objectification in our culture is harmful. We can’t harm women in one way to support them in another way.

“I would say to a company like the Bavarian Bier Cafe… if they want to support women, if they want to make a donation to breast cancer charity, that’s a great thing. I think more companies should do that. But you can’t use this contribution to charity to justify your sleazy ad campaign! That’s not ethical, and that’s not supporting women. I would object to the idea that a donation is a donation. It’s not right.”

Melinda, who has slammed the size of the donation ($1 from every $37 plate of ribs) as “pretty pathetic”, says the ad is part of a larger cultural problem.

“We need to keep challenging the sexual objectification of women in our culture,” she said, “because it’s a culture that’s making girls sick. Sexual objectification contributes to negative body image, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, poor academic performance… these are real impacts, these aren’t things people have just made up.

“I always challenge this idea that ‘sex sells’. I don’t think it’s sex that sells, it’s sexualised images of women that sell, and there is a very big difference. The culture is so wallpapered with these sexualised images of women, it’s almost like sex and objectification have become synonymous, but they’re two very different things.

“If it was ‘sex’ that sold, I think we’d see the same type of imagery with men, and we just don’t see the same sexual objectification of men. You see it occasionally, but it’s nowhere near as prevalent. I don’t think people would tolerate it nearly as much. Sometimes people parody ad campaigns and swap the genders; they put a man in the positition of the woman, so instead of a woman leaning over a motorbike with little underpants on, it’s a man. Everyone has a laugh and says, ‘look how ridiculous that is’. So it’s ridiculous when it’s a man, but because we’re so used to seeing women portrayed in this way, that seems normal and acceptable.”

Melinda knows that some commentators will say they are not offended by the campaign, but she says that’s not the point.

“One of the classic lines you’ll get is ‘I’m a woman and I’m not offended by this campaign’. The point I try to make is that it’s actually bigger than one individual’s feelings. When you grow up in a culture where this is so prevalent, you can become desensitised to it. I’m pretty desensitised myself; it takes a lot to shock me. But it’s not about my feelings — it’s about the negative impact our toxic culture is having on women and girls.

“There have been other issues that were really hard to challenge. Tobacco advertising, that took a long time for people to challenge, and look where we are now with plain packaging. We’ve come a long way, and I think we can do the same with the sexual objectification of women. It’s not acceptable, and we don’t need to tolerate a culture that keeps sending these messages to women and girls.”

Despite her outrage, Melinda thinks it’s still possible for the Bavarian Bier Cafe to undo the damage caused by the ad.

“I’d definitely like them to pull the ad immediately. I think what they’re doing is that disgusting. An apology would be great, an acknowledgement that they’ve done the wrong thing. The Bavarian Bier Cafe can still turn this around by being a company that picks a cause and consistently contributes to it. If they want to pick a breast cancer charity and be supportive of that charity, then do that, but get rid of the sexually exploitative advertising.

“Until they make a change, absolutely boycott them. We’re asking people who have booked their end-of-year events at the Bavarian Bier Cafe to give them a ring and cancel. They don’t deserve your money. We are about supporting businesses that do the right thing, and we want businesses that do the wrong thing to know we won’t be voting for them with our dollars.”

At the time of publication, the Bavarian Bier Cafe has not provided a response to Collective Shout’s complaints.

UPDATE: bmag received a statement from the Urban Purveyor Group, owners of Bavarian Bier Cafe, this afternoon confirming that for every rack of ribs sold between now and the end of October, Bavarian Bier Cafes will continue to donate $1 to Treasure Chest, a charity that seeks to decrease the waiting time for breast reconstruction in partnership with the Royal Women’s and Royal Melbourne Hospitals.

Urban Purveyor Group Director of Marketing Daniel Hopkirk said: “Urban Purveyor Group is proud to support the Treasure Chest charity and has raised $65,000 to date. We are proud to be associated with such a critical cause impacting thousands of women across the country.”

UPDATE: According to a letter sent by the Advertising Standards Board to Collective Shout, The Bavarian Bier Cafe has voluntarily withdrawn the #BestRack ad from social media and outdoor advertising. 

Do you think the ad is offensive, or is it all in good fun? Do you think the Bavarian Bier Cafe’s donation to a breast cancer charity is appropriate? Let us know in the comments below.