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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

how not to do the female gaze: that unbelievably wrongheaded Zoosk commercial

I fume every time this ad comes on the TV. Take a look, and then meet me after the jump for an explanation of why I’m fuming…


Zoosk calls this a “fantasy date parody.” I call it punishing women for daring to have sexual fantasies.

So the redhead is dreaming about some “serious romance” with a guy who looks like his day job is posing for bodice-ripper cover artists, and what happens in her fantasy? Pain. Bodily injury. Over and over and over again. When you think about a sexy evening with an attractive partner, is this what you think about? Is this the first, second, third, or even tenth scenario that comes to mind?

And then, to compound the awfulness, it appears that all the redhead’s friends have also jumped to the same bizarre conclusion: that fantasizing about sex with a handsome guy will invariably lead to bodily harm. And not of this variety: “Be careful whom you hook up with when you go the online-dating route, because someone who looks like your perfect date could turn out to be a serial killer.” Which is a legitimate concern when it comes to online dating. But no: This ad appears to assume that it’s natural for women to not fantasize about sex with attractive men because when they do, their fantasize take dangerous turns.

Note to Zoosk: This notion does not appeal to women who are confident in their sexuality. Is that the tone you were hoping to strike? Is the terrified-virgin demographic a good one for a dating site to target?



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  • JoshDM

    So the redhead is dreaming about some “serious romance” with a guy

    She’s not a redhead.

  • Warning: guys on the online dating services do NOT have ripped abs.

    I am assuming a few things: 1) the woman is attractive, 2) the woman has enough financial success to own a laptop, 3) the woman is socially well-adjusted enough by having friends about her.

    So why is she going to a website instead of social gatherings like art galleries or popular nightclubs?

  • Matt C

    I found it funny. I see the commercial as a “not every romantic date turns out well” parable. I don’t see it as women not being allowed to have sexual fantasies or a terrified virgin not taking the initiative.

    I think you’re reading too much into it.

  • Rykker

    Aw, man, you know which one makes me fume?
    That National Guard PSA with the tornado.
    The Heart of the Storm

    Towards the end, the driver has already pulled-over by the time his buddy starts yelling, “Pull. Over. PULL OVER!”

    HE’S ALREADY PULLED-OVER, NUMBNUTS! YOU’RE IN THE FREAKING CAR, CAN’T YOU SEE?!

    Aw, man. I have to watch that thing five gamillion times every day that I am at work and it gets me every time….

  • Isobel

    @PaulW

    I’m a) reasonably attractive, b) financially successful enough to own a laptop and c) socially well enough adjusted to have friends. I’ve just joined a dating site. Reason being, I came out of a long term relationship about 18 months ago and now have discovered that it’s much more difficult to meet people in your thirties. Most of my friends are married with children, most of their friends are the same, so you don’t meet men that way. The kind of pubs and bars I go to are generally full of men about my age, most of which are also married or in long term relationships. I’m also not particularly comfortable about starting conversations in pubs. Dating site seems the way to go, at least (most of) the men are available!

    Oh, and one of the guys I had a date with did have ‘ripped abs’. Sad thing was, he was obviously gym and body image obsessed (hence the ripped abs) and not in a good way.

    Having said that – this dating site does not attract me at all. Terrible ad! I’m not sure whether it was a bad attempt to temper people’s expectations, though, rather than a punishment of sexual fantasies. I think some women on dating sites expect to find a serious relationship quite quickly and haven’t got their heads around the fact that although you’ve met on a dating site and chatted and know you have some things in common, you’ve still got to do the whole getting to know you thing rather than jumping straight in to some epic romance.

  • Victor Plenty

    It was only funny for the few brief seconds starting from when the guy showed up with the washboard abs that looked computer generated, right up to the first injury. After that it was just painfully stupid layered on top of embarrassingly stupid.

    (And to JoshDM, the woman is definitely a redhead. Real red hair usually has that subtle red shade, although many viewers are conditioned to expect the over-the-top red hair that more often comes out of a bottle. Here’s another video of her where the lighting allows you to see the freckles often visible on a person with genuinely red hair: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VoAjpOv4560 )

  • MaryAnn

    So why is she going to a website instead of social gatherings like art galleries or popular nightclubs?

    PaulW, the only straight guys at art galleries have been dragged there by their female significant others.

    Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration… but not by much. :->

    Although perhaps at some point I will tell my tale of the creep who accosted me twice — separated by a span of five years or so — at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

    I am — I think — reasonably attractive. I own a laptop. And I have friends. And I’ve used dating sites (though not Zoosk), with zero success.

    She’s not a redhead.

    In what way is this woman not a redhead?

  • MaryAnn

    Not everybody with red hair has freckles. :->

  • Ken

    PaulW, the only straight guys at art galleries have been dragged there by their female significant others.

    I’ve got an issue with this.

    Although perhaps at some point I will tell my tale of the creep who accosted me twice — separated by a span of five years or so — at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

    ??? Patient, I guess

  • markyd

    One of the first dates I took my now wife on was to the Art Institute in Chicago. I love Monet and could stare at his paintings for hours.
    Then again, I also have zero interest in sports. I think my parents thought I was gay for a while there.
    Not that there’s anything wrong with that(My very catholic family thinks otherwise, of course).

  • Orangutan
    PaulW, the only straight guys at art galleries have been dragged there by their female significant others.

    I’ve got an issue with this.

    So do I. Even with the qualifier after it, it’s still rubbing me, and my MoMA membership card, the wrong way. How is this different than, for example, me saying something like “The only straight women at sci-fi conventions are dragged their by their boyfriends”?

  • kassia

    As a redhead myself, I can definitely tell that she’s a natural redhead.

  • Cam

    the only straight guys at art galleries have been dragged there by their female significant others.

    Just … wow.

  • JoshB

    PaulW, the only straight guys at art galleries have been dragged there by their female significant others.

    Muahaha!

    Careful MaryAnn. Once you get a taste for the trollish pleasures you can never go back…

  • MaryAnn

    I’ll amend my comment, then, to start that for all the many, many hours I have spent in art gallleries and museums, I have never met a potential date at one, or even spied one from afar. And the creep I referred to above seemed to have taken to heart advice that a guy looking to meet women should hang around in museums and harass them.

  • MaryAnn

    Is my comment any worse then PaulW’s assumption that the woman he describes would have no trouble finding a date? :->

  • Lady Tenar

    Is my comment any worse then PaulW’s assumption that the woman he describes would have no trouble finding a date? :->

    Yeah, I’m really annoyed by the notion that if a woman is attractive and a “catch” then she’ll always have an easy time dating. It’s not even close to that simple. Some women are shy. Some women are picky. Some women don’t like art galleries. I could go on.

    This ad really weirds me out. Honestly I can’t tell what it’s trying to say. I have no idea who it’s even trying to appeal to. Are we women supposed to be like “hahaha, boy have I ever been there ?” I need to think about this one.

  • Cam

    That ad utterly weirds me out. I agree with Lady Tenar: I have no idea who it’s trying to appeal to, but “terrified virgin” sounds about right. I had never even considered the possibility that my date would demolish my back [like that.]

    Is my comment any worse then PaulW’s assumption that the woman he describes would have no trouble finding a date? :->

    Does it matter? Which part makes it okay, that it is/n’t as bad as what someone else said, or the smiley appended to the end?

    Do I honestly think you’re a homophobe? No, but it’s still a bullshit thing to say. Discourse Fail.

  • Mimi

    I totally agree, MaryAnn. This ad is just weird. How is it supposed to make women feel like fun, sexy online dating? It makes me feel like putting an icepack on my head.

    And she’s totally a strawberry blonde.

  • Jurgan

    Is my comment any worse then PaulW’s assumption that the woman he describes would have no trouble finding a date? :->

    Probably not, but you’re usually above that sort of stereotypical nonsense.

    I found this ad pretty annoying, or maybe just confusing. I guess the point is that the woman is thinking of these bad results because she’s not really ready for a serious relationship right now- maybe she just recently broke up with someone? But I’m probably giving it too much credit.

  • MaryAnn

    Probably not, but you’re usually above that sort of stereotypical nonsense.

    Yeah. Sorry. I was responding to PaulW’s question about why a woman like the one in the ad would “have to” resort to online dating — because, you know, maybe she has had my experience with art galleries: that they’re useless for meeting men who are available. (Let’s not even get into nightlife options.)

  • Dymphna

    It seems to me that the online dating thing is one area where they still haven’t really figured out how to market it well. Maybe that’s just me. They at least haven’t figured out how to market it to the “zomg true love and marriage yay” crowd that eharmony goes in for.

    One problem is the assumption that online dating is something you do as your last resort, when you can’t get dates anywhere else, rather than because it’s a fun thing to do that you might chose over other methods of dating for many reasons.

  • MaryAnn

    Does it matter? Which part makes it okay, that it is/n’t as bad as what someone else said, or the smiley appended to the end?

    I have apologized. It was a bad, bad, bad joke. I’m sorry. Chalk it up to frustration with the kind of bullshit advice women are subjected to when it comes to dating.

    Do I honestly think you’re a homophobe? No, but it’s still a bullshit thing to say. Discourse Fail.

    Homophobe? I’m not sure how you get that. Unless you’re suggesting that it’s homophobic for a woman who wants to date men who want to date women to eliminate gay guys when looking for a date. :->

  • Lenina Crowne

    That ad just doesn’t even make any sense. I mean, if it were that she imagined a perfect date and then the reality was the painful slapstick, it would still be insulting, but at least it would make sense. But no, the date going wrong is in her fantasy. Careful, ladies, if you don’t use our dating site you will start to *fantasize* about your date going wrong. Your actual love life will be okay, but your fantasies will go bad. Our date site will fix your fantasies, somehow.

  • Victor Plenty

    Mimi, just out of curiosity, when you say the woman in the ad is a strawberry blonde, are you judging solely by her appearance in the commercial itself, or did you also include her appearance in the other video which I linked to in an earlier comment?

    I’m not saying you’re wrong, necessarily, just that I am interested in learning more about your process for reaching your conclusion.

  • Alli

    If you’re trying to market a site to women for them to meet men, why would you suggest they could be complete klutzes? Suggesting that they’re terrible in bed does NOT make me want to come to your site (Side note: is this really a female fear, or a male fear?)

    I don’t understand what this advertisement is trying to tell me. Is it suggesting it’s a place where I can just flirt with a guy if I want to? Can’t you already do that on Facebook or at a bar? Isn’t the internet already full of places where you can just flirt for free? Why would I pay to do that?

  • Cam

    Maryanne, your apology is noted and humbly accepted — thank you. For my own part I apologize for assuming you were acting in bad faith and being quick to jump at it — I am sorry.

    Alli — I would say there’s value in being able to go someplace where the social dynamic is explicitly about flirting or finding a partner or a hook-up or whatever. Being out at the bar isn’t permission, and facebook flirting can be range from tacky to embarrassing to invasive depending on who can read it (My ex? My mother? My employer? terrifying.)

    Otherwise you’re totally right: there are lots of free dating sites and I can’t think of many good reasons to use a paid service, but I’m sure those reasons exist.

  • Lady Tenar

    I have no idea who it’s trying to appeal to, but “terrified virgin” sounds about right.

    Except I don’t even know if it’s that. The “terrified virgin” demographic is the fundie Christian demographic and I don’t think that’s what this site is. Again, I’m just really confused about what this ad is trying to say. I mean, I’m trying to imagine a Mad Men-style pitch meeting for this one. “Okay, so there will be this woman imagining a hypothetical dating scenario and she’ll be in a bedroom with this really buff guy and it will look really awesome except then–get this–he’ll accidentally head butt her and then smash her into every piece of furniture in the room because, you know, every woman has had an experience like that. And then she’ll decide that she’d rather never have sex on dates, which will totally appeal to all those millions of women out there who have sworn off sex for fear of having it degenerate into farcical slapstick. Whaddya think?”

    Honestly, my overall response to this ad isn’t even anger it’s just “…huh?” I think it’s biggest crime is that it’s just plain idiotic and nonsensical.

  • Paul

    I think it’s just plain hard to get people to read or look at ads, so they have to do something, anything, to keep people from fast forwarding through them. In this case, a running gag.

  • RogerBW

    I don’t see advertising most of the time – television over net, and good ad-blockers on my web browser – so I may not be au fait with the current vocabulary, but the message I get from this is “our site, unlike other ways of meeting people, allows you to get to know someone rather than just jumping straight into bed”.

    Which is so blatantly a false comparison that I just end up confused.

  • MaryAnn

    the message I get from this is “our site, unlike other ways of meeting people, allows you to get to know someone rather than just jumping straight into bed”.

    I get the opposite: The ad makes it sound like you can filter your searches based on what sort of date you’re looking for, like whether you just want a quick hookup or a more traditional “date” (like going to the movies).

    But the bizarre fantasy scenario seems totally counterproductive to the purpose of all advertising, which is to oversell expectations rather than undersell. Who would sell a dating site on the premise that you’re probably not going to get laid? :->

  • Ken

    Who would sell a dating site on the premise that you’re probably not going to get laid?

    These people

  • MaryAnn

    Oh my god. From that site linked above:

    Female Virgins FREE GOLD MEMBERSHIP

    Someone please hose me down.

  • JoshDM

    Someone please hose me down.

    I’m sure you can find someone to do that from this site.

  • JohnnyInc

    It just seems like they were using lowbrow humor to get some laughs. I read somewhere that the smaller the marketshare a company owns the more it will produce unconventional commercials. So a company like eHarmony has customer testimonials with “Everlasting Love” playing in the background but lesser known dating sites try to stick in your head with prat falls and outlandish scenarios.

  • hey I found it funny.

    women
    admit to having sex just for pleasure and adventure at a higher rate
    than in previous years  http://www.adultsexdating-net.com

  • anon

    Are you fucking shitting me? How did you come to that conclusion?

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