Controversy Surrounding “Looks like shit. But saves my life”

It was another tumultuous weekend in the social web: Media, politicians, and internet users went full throttle rhetorically regarding the bicycle helmet campaign of the Federal Ministry of Transport (BMVI). This campaign, in a strikingly graphic manner, illustrates the conclusion of the recently released annual report of the German Advertising Council: Gender-discriminatory advertising remains the top reason for all 2018 contested advertising campaigns.

NOt just an Eyesore

“Looks like shit. But saves my life” is the slogan of the new bicycle helmet campaign by CSU Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer. This supposedly targeted slogan is illustrated with scantily clad models. One of them is a GNTM “top model” who was cast for the job as part of Heidi Klum’s show. Now, 18-year-old Alicija is depicted languidly in bed – in underwear and with a bicycle helmet. This indeed looks strange, not particularly authentic – more like something out of an absurd fantasy. Or perhaps the humorous response of an advertising intern to the desperate question of how to reach the young, helmet-averse generation. “Sex sells always,” seems to be the answer.

Embarassing, Foolish, and sexist

The chairwoman of the Association of Social Democratic Women, Maria Noichl, described the outcome as “embarrassing, foolish, and sexist” to BILD am Sonntag (article published on Josephine Ortleb, the women’s policy spokesperson for the SPD, also emphasized to the medium that neither women as objects, naked skin, nor sexism are necessary to draw attention to safety in cycling. And how does Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer respond to this accusation of sexism?


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The End justifies the means

Freely following the motto “bad PR is better than none,” he cheerfully tweets in response to a critical article.

All that remains is the incredulous comment of a user: “You call this successful? #HelmetsSaveLives is trending because people are discussing #sexism in advertising and the objectification of women’s bodies – not about road safety.” One can only hope that the conservative politician does not ride a bicycle as blindly as he argues. But apparently, the end justifies the means. Thus, the BMVI reaffirmed via Twitter that despite heavy opposition, it stands behind its campaign because, in this provocative way, the target group would be awakened. And emphasizes that the 400,000 euro campaign was quite a bargain.

Gender-discriminatory advertising at the top of the Advertising Council’s list

The creators of the motifs criticized by the German Advertising Council were far more conciliatory than the BMVI. About 90 percent of all companies followed the vote of the self-regulatory body and stopped or changed their contested advertising. The Advertising Council had to issue 16 public reprimands because the companies did not react despite the criticism. According to the official press release, a total of 1,235 complaints about 702 advertising measures were filed in 2018. 462 of them fell within the scope of the control body. Although complaints about gender-discriminatory advertising decreased compared to 2017, they still lead the ranking of complaint reasons with 261 advertising materials. Complaints about advertising content spread on social networks increased significantly in 2018 (up 22 percent) according to the Advertising Council. Taken together, all digital advertising media, online advertising with a total of 100 complaint cases was almost on par with billboard advertising.


The “Looks like shit” posters from the BMVI are supposed to adorn major cities like Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, and Cologne starting this week. The SPD women would like to prevent this – they demand a stop to the campaign. In the highly unrealistic event that they should succeed, the social web has some original and non-sexist campaign alternatives for the already booked advertising spaces.