Ad Report Card: Martha Unwrapped

Martha Video Is Martha Stewart a sex object or a mother figure? Neither. She is America’s hostess and our doyenne of good taste. How, then, would we feel if we came across her in the bathtub? Titillated? In need of therapy? These are questions no one wants to wrestle with, but the Ad Report Card, this week, must. They are raised by a recent advertisement for a sale of Martha-branded sheets and so forth at Kmart, the discount chain that sells her wares. (Click the picture to see the ad in question.)

The Ad: We open with a shot of a delightful peach-colored bathroom set. The soundtrack, tastefully discreet, is Buddy Holly’s “Everyday.” There’s a tub, and there’s someone in it, taking a bubble bath. It’s Martha. “Every day,” she says, with an inviting little smile, “you bathe.” In a quick series of cuts, she pads around in a peach-colored towel. Then she’s in a kitchen, brandishing what I think is a giant strawberry. “Every day, you eat.” Now she’s hoisting a stack of pillows. “Every day, you make the beds.” Then with in mock-weary voice she ads, “Every day.” But, she continues, it’s not every day that that her collection is on sale at Kmart—”it’s today. Even my new 100 percent pima-cotton sheets are on sale.” At this point, she is actually in bed, wearing a playful grin. She has a sheet bunched up around her, and in this shot, her shoulders appear bare, suggesting a state of nightie-lessness. She turns out the light. We cut away for a moment to some type, “The Everyday Sale at Kmart.” (The sale is actually over: These ads first ran earlier this year, then resurfaced in June, and will return, I’m told, in October, for the next sale.) Then it’s back to Martha’s bedroom, where she clicks on the light. In this shot, nightie straps are clearly visible. Did she get up in the middle of the night and change? Hard to say. Anyway her punch line is: “Oh, and every day, you shop.”

One Reaction: A special adviser to the Ad Report Card, Slate’s Eliza Truitt, reports having been “shocked” at seeing Martha in this spot the first time around: “Usually she wears a full suit of cotton poplin armor.” Later she elaborated: “To date everything Martha has done has been 100 percent unsexy. Gardening? Not sexy. De-yellowing heirloom doilies? Unsexier. Seeing her act vixenish in the ad was like seeing Dwight Eisenhower purring at the camera. Though she’s very pretty, in my mind Martha is a soldier, a brigadier general with of a fleet of household help who jump at her every command. So it was odd to see her shoulders bared. That may be the first time we’ve ever seen them, in her mag or elsewhere.”

A Good Thing? It’s true, Martha has never showed us this side of herself. So to speak. Anyway, the question is whether this maneuver was a miscalculation. Here I should disclose that while I’m not a Martha Stewart Living subscriber, Moneybox headquarters is outfitted with several Martha Stewart towels, a couple of Martha pillowcases, and, if I’m not mistaken, a Martha oven mitt.

If Stewart has a flaw in her role as the hostess of the great American dinner party, it is in fact that she comes off being a bit chilly. She smiles warmly, yes, but can’t you sort of imagine her not only commanding an army of domestic help, but enforcing a certain barbaric discipline with them when the guests have gone? Maybe that’s overdoing it, but the point is that the Martha Stewart image is not going to be hurt by a bit of softening. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that she actually she seems sexy in this spot, but she does seem like someone who at least ponders the idea of sexiness from time to time—this adds a bit of humanity to her image that I think is ultimately sort of a relief. Thus it seems impolite to give the spots anything less than a tasteful B.