‘Torture’ advert mocks survivors’ experiences

I’m much too late in seeing this ad, but recently, a World Without Torture supporter e-mailed us a link to an atrocious advert from Woolite, a laundry detergent company.

‘Don’t let detergents torture your clothes’ says Woolite, a subsidiary of Reckitt Benckiser, in an advertisement that mocks the experiences of torture and takes the misuse of this term to a tragic low.

This statement follows several scenes of a masked man, trudging through muddy paths, pulling a jumper on a Medieval style stretcher, and dipping other clothes into boiling water. You can watch the full 30-second commercial below.

Directed by famed musician, director, and horror film enthusiast Rob Zombie, the commercial is at best, gimmicky and tacky, and at worst, reveals a disturbing lack of awareness of the reality of torture. Despite using motifs and torture methods associated with the middle ages, the reality is that torture is still used today – more than 90% of countries around the world use torture, estimates international torture experts.

Most significantly, it’s likely that a torture survivor would actually see this ad. Up to a third of asylum seekers to European and North American countries – such as the U.S. where this commercial was targeted – have been tortured. Re-traumatisation of the torture victim, who happens upon this ad during a seemingly banal evening of TV viewing, is among the possibilities of such callous usages of the term ‘torture.’

Regardless, while the misuse of the term torture (as we previously wrote about) is degrading the reality of torture victims experiences, this ad takes this many steps too far. The Woolite ad makes it seem as if torture only occurred during the middle ages, a part of uncivilized history, rather than a current problem; and then cruelly demonstrating torture to sell… laundry detergent. Woolite should be ashamed.

Have you seen any other videos, advertisements or commercials like this, that use the torture experience to sell things? If so, please send them to us.

Tessa works in the IRCT’s Communication Team.


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  1. #1 by ManoDestra on 22/03/2012 - 14:43

    To be fair, the advert is really just using the concept of torture in a horror concept. I didn’t see anything in that advert that trivialised or glorified torture itself in any way. It simply using a horrifying concept to relate to clothing. There’s nothing wrong with that e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQR8GCG1lQQ&feature=related.

    Adverts are well known for using ludicrous concepts to sell their respective products. If this advert showed someone being waterboarded and then someone stepping in to protect the towel being held over the guy’s face and disregarding the tortured man beneath, that would be potentially quite offensive and would trivialise torture, but I’m sorry, this doesn’t.

  2. #2 by Tessa on 22/03/2012 - 15:00

    Yeah, I see your point, especially when put up against the Nike ad. But my complaint lies in continuously misusing the term torture and torture imagery – especially for commercial purposes. My first point uses similar logic as those against callous use of the term ‘rape’ to mean other things besides sexual violence (http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/2011/10/things_that_are) – that this desensitizes us to the reality of what torture is, thus diminishing it. Secondly, torture victims watch TV too. Having this advert suddenly foisted upon them seems callous – my guess would be that the creators have no idea that torture still commonly exists. – Tessa

  3. #3 by ManoDestra on 22/03/2012 - 15:47

    I think you step into dangerous territory when you start to marginalise a word’s meaning. Context is everything. When Johnny Depp said “Rape” in that example, he clearly meant sexual rape and that’s was wrong of him to use it in that context because he was trivialising the THAT meaning of that word. The word “Frape” as in Facebook Rape is another thing entirely as that’s using the original meaning of rape, NOT the sexual one.

    I don’t think the mere use of a word de-sensitises anyone to its use. It is more the improper use of a word in certain contexts that we should directly be targetting. For instance, I play on XBox Live quite a bit and I have often heard people referring to one team “raping” the other team. That’s well out of order and I ALWAYS pull people up for using the word in that context as it’s immensely offensive to men and women alike.

    I think it’s also rather dangerous to say we have to be careful of what we present on TV as “torture victims watch TV too”. Does this then mean we cannot represent death on screen because there are many people who are grieving in the world? Do we then ban all mention of torture in all media that uses the concept in a different way from what we expect? E.g. the ad above, any of the Hostel films, etc.

    Incidentally, I do a lot in my life to fight against torture. As a theatre director, I’ve directed a number of plays on the topic: Sladjana Vujovic’s The Tender Mercies, Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus (in which I put the rape of Lavinia ONSTAGE rather than off as I wanted the audience to see the true horror of it) and Sarah Kane’s Blasted to name a few, so I am completely with you on that. I just think this particular advert is too trivial an example. And it actually paints torture in a horrifying light as it should be. Okay, it’s using horror/torture to make a point in order to sell a product, but like I said that’s not inherently bad. Only if it were trivialising the concept directly would it be offensive such as the waterboarding example I gave above.

    I respect what you’re saying, but it makes more sense to me to target particularly bad contextual examples than just blanket saying “Don’t use the word torture except in horrifyingly dark circumstances and only when the subject is torture itself”. That kind of over-eager PC doesn’t do the cause any good. I don’t think this ad is worth fighting over.

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