North Dakota tries to be cool, fails

We all probably had at least one friend who attempted to reinvent themselves after high-school in a way that was so not them that it just made you feel pity. You know what I'm talking about. Like the goody-goody who tried so hard to change their squeaky clean reputation, but would clearly never be a badass cool kid, no matter how many times they told you that they got "sooooo drunk" last weekend.

That's what this ad reminds me of.

Somehow, North Dakota has managed to create a tourism ad that is simultaneously offensively sleazy and desperately uncool. It's trying to make a wink-wink, "women are objects" lad mag joke. But it looks like your really dorky, incredibly square uncle's idea of a wink-wink, "women are objects" lad mag joke.

It's sleaze as designed by people who have no idea what sleaze is supposed to look like. They've just heard about it third-hand from someone who went to Vegas once.


  1. Also, the girl in the pink dress looks like she’s trying to woo those boys with her impression of Danny Torrence. 

    Which, judging from that one gentleman’s decision to put his shirt collar outside his blazer, just might work. 

  2. There’s a lot about this ad that’s worse, but something that bugs me about it is the fact that it’s making North Dakota look like, well, a lot of other places. One of the things I enjoy about traveling is being able to see and experience things I won’t find anywhere else, or that at least I won’t find at home. If I want to see a couple of guys sitting in a bar drinking beer and ogling women like idiots I only have to go about fifty feet from my office.

    1. In my experience, all tourism/conference videos must show off the same things about the host city, no matter where they are:
      * Tastefully lit pedestrian area for evening strolls
      * Teppanyaki!
      * Live jazz/blues with cabaret dining
      * Business people shaking hands
      * Classy disco!

    2. Let’s face it, a lot of people that travel like to experience things that are.. just like home.  That’s why there’s an Olive Garden in Times Square.  The first time I saw that, my first thought was “who the fuck would eat ‘Italian food’ in Olive Garden while in NYC?”  Well, anywhere for that matter, but that’s another subject.
      Safe and easy is how most folks prefer things, unfortunately.  Same reason flocks of tourists go to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, and never get farther than Union Square when exploring.

        1. I had a friend that lived in a pre-war walk up on 24th and Bartlett way back when.  Now THAT could be scary at times.  However, the food more than made up for it.. :)   For a little jaunt, we’d head over to Don Ramon’s (Folsom and 11th?) for Mexican comfort grub.  Them’s good eatin’.
          The only place I ever felt uncomfortable in the city (and still do today) is in the Tenderloin.  Some things never change.

  3. Awww, poor North Dakota. It’s a beautiful state unfortunately terminally tied to the Fargo image (the movie, I mean).

    I must admit I like the fact that the girls aren’t blonde, skinny bimbos!

        1. You know what is funny? This is almost how I read this ad. I had to think about it to get the “skeevy lad mag” attempt at all. First of all, there is more than one guy, which makes it ambiguous as to who is making the decision (actually I like that) and secondly because it looks like those girls are laughing at the guys and pointing.

          IOW I read this image as: “Come to North Dakota, we have white men!”

  4. Dude, If I were contracted to produce an advertisement espousing the tourism highlights of the Dakotas, I would keep it simple.  A single artistic rendition of a person.  Actually, lets make it a series of shots where the person is replaced with an ordinary man, and ordinary woman, a tot… maybe personalize the style of each “ordinary” person per the city the add will run in.  Or region.

    The ordinary person would be giddy, laughing with reckless abandon.  They would be wearing a customarily Dakotas cowboy hat.  And, they would be straddling an equally customarily Dakotas nuclear warhead.

    That my friends… would get people to the Dakotas.

  5. But they put the only neon sign they have  in the background to tell you it is a risque place.
    ooooooh, saucy!

    1. That is not the only neon sign. downtown fargo is full of neon signs.  it also isn’t the only penis shaped sign.

      the bar the two guys are in, it has it’s own neon penis sign/logo.

      and i’m pretty sure no actual customer of that bar would be wearing cowboy boots unless they were being ironic. if that is in fact what the one guy is wearing.

    1. I agree. More like “people are objects”. Which they kinda are when they’re in an ad, or on the other side of a pane of glass (I’m guessing here). The guys are on the inside! Maybe it’s a guy-selling shop! I think there’s places I’d rather not find myself in than the Dakotas after this.

        1. Women get to be called “slut” or “whore” for thier casual sexual conquests.  Men get to label themselves “legend” for the exact same act.

          Nope, no misogyny here.  Move along people.

        2. It says “Drinks, Dinner, Decisions“. Only the fellas have drinks and are sitting in a place to have dinner. The implication should be simple.

  6. Interesting… I agree, but it looks to me like the men are being objectified – those women are window-shopping for dolts, aren’t they?

      1. On the other hand, the ad _does_ read “Drinks, dinner, decisions.” I guess since the guys are having drinks it’s them who “decide” and not the women?

        Or maybe we’re all just reading way too much into it.

    1. I’m sure there’s some recently fired ad-guy in ND still perplexed on why they didn’t choose that gem.

  7. So much is being read into this silly picture.  Sure, it’s cheesy, but let’s be honest: this is a genuine and accurate depiction of what recently-college-graduated middle-class kids of about that age are going to do on a weekend in North Dakota. 

    It’s not sleazy at all, and it’s probably a more earnest and genuine activity than if these kids were to actually try to be something they’re not.  Like some sort of steampunk hipster tiki author layabout.  They like doing this, and why should any of us want them to do exactly what we like?  It’s a dull world where everyone is the same, and this post smacks of the sort of elitism you’d expect from somebody whose particular hobbies have never been made fun of.  Congratulations… you’re the popular kid making fun of the nerds.

    1. this is a genuine and accurate depiction of what recently-college-graduated middle-class kids of about that age are going to do on a weekend in North Dakota.

      Pose awkwardly in front of gawking strangers?

      1. That’s one way of stating it, and an accurate one. 

        Going to a bar with friends to have a few drinks, be awkward in your newfound adulthood, and hopefully ogle/be ogled by similar groups of the opposite sex is about as run-of-the-mill as it gets.  When did this become sleazy, and where is the inequality?

    2. It *is* a genuine and accurate depiction. That’s downtown Fargo (1st and Broadway, I believe), and I can testify to you that there is fuck-all to do in Fargo. Seriously, you’d be surprised at the nothingness of what is to do, for a town that size.

      Now, North Dakota does have some lovely badlands out west. *Those* you could convince me to make a trip for. But I just kind of feel sorry for the guy whose job it was to sell downtown Fargo.

  8. Nah. I’m a woman and a feminist and my only reaction to this ad is “High five! Plus size women of color being portrayed as sexy!”. The misogyny thing is a major stretch.

    1. Seriously.  The author hasn’t been to a “normal” bar in 20 years, apparently, or they’d know that the boys are NOT running this show at any level beyond “hoping to be objectified.”

      1. The author has been to many normal bars and, as a young woman, feels that she is in a pretty good position to call bullshit on you. Sorry, dude. If you don’t notice that there are lots of dudes who hit the bar scene and objectify, harass, and generally treat the women they meet there in creepy and uncomfortable ways, then you’re being willfully ignorant. 

        1. Wait… is this picture of “lots of bars,” or a picture of five people who all appear to be willing participants in lighthearted (if dull by our collective standards) activity?

          I’m calling bullshit on you.  Bad things happen at bars, but they’re not happening in this picture.

          [edit: that was harsher than I intended, but I’m leaving it so everyone can make fun of my knee-jerk response. something truly awful must have happened to Maggie at some point for her to read so much into this picture, and I shouldn’t be so quick to run my mouth.]

          [edit edit: Although you don’t mention it one way or another, I would like to make it clear that men do not hold anything like a monopoly on creepy, uncomfortable objectification of the opposite sex at bars. I’ll concede that they might in North Dakota. I haven’t been there since I was too young to drink.]

          1. Raygundan, 

            My reply was referring specifically to your comment alleging that women are totally in control of all bar settings and men never do anything except wait to be objectified. 

            I was not explaining why I think this ad is an example of objectification. That’s about the copy, which presents a scenario where young men take their pick from the sexy ladies who have come around to parade before them.

            The scenario of people flirting at a bar doesn’t have to involve objectification of women. Nobody is claiming that. But this ad does, because of the way the ad copy is written. 

          2. [edit edit edit: because I’m new here, I can’t figure out how to reply to Maggie down below.  I’m hoping this is a cruddy comment-system limitation, not me being shut out of a discussion.  Maggie: I didn’t mean to imply that women are in control at all bars– what I was trying to say (poorly, apparently) was that someone who had been to a bar recently would be able to tell that THIS situation was not one of the bad ones.  Everyone is smiling, there is a glass barrier, and nobody’s making “how can I get out of this awkward interaction” faces.  As to the copy, what makes it apply to the guys alone?  I would genuinely love to have an offline chat with you about this, because I’m half-afraid I’m an a-hole and don’t know it.]

            And finally, because I apparently can’t even read, I managed to click “reply” instead of “edit.”

    2. Plus size? Which one? Damn I will have to rethink my misogyny, they all just look normal size to me.  But then again I think most people in media look emaciated.

  9. Are the men objectifying the women or the other way around? I’m not sure… The guys almost look like they happened to look out the window as these girls are shambling smilingly at them outside.

  10. They are not looking at each other, they’re looking at the window,

    “hey Elmer you think something like this might keeps the flys outta the barn? “

  11. The guy on the left doesn’t appear to have a mouth.  Can’t tell if he’s laughing, crying, or bored.

  12. I was all riled to come here and address the misogyny, but it looks like other have brought this to the attention of the author.  But nonetheless, what is it that the women are being objectified?  How do we know that the men aren’t being objectified?  Talk about writer’s bias!!!

    1. I agree fully, if anything, one could argue that the men are the objects, set up in a shop window of sorts, for the women to check out. In truth, I think they are really trying simply to say, hey young people hook up and have  cosmopolitan-ish fun in North Dakota, and not everyone wears overalls everywhere! AND we don’t always drink our beer out of two-handled jugs! And hey, you know what, we also sort of have kinda black and kinda asian people here! We aren’t ALL white (unlike those uncouth and bland South Dakota peeps). If you show this to a number of men and women not trained or read in gender politics, i’m pretty sure that is what they would say. If you showed this to a number of men or women versed in gender issues etc, they would probably disagree… but that doesn’t mean the first group is somehow unaware, rather that the second group is seeing something not there (it’s not as if this is one of those ads showing a husband giving his clearly subservient wife a vacuum cleaner for which she is grateful).

        1. Actually you may have a point, in which case SHAME on North Dakota for not having Asian-folk! But seriously, Indio sort of makes more sense than 1/4 asian.

  13. Yeah, so it’s not that bad. It’s a little gauche, but not cringe-inducing. Looks like this ad would find a nice home in an airline magazine or something.

    Here’s what’s really wrong with the ad, and it’s not really about cool. I mean, you can’t try to be cool. You either are or you aren’t. One of the best ways to be uncool is to try.

    But cool isn’t the only normative value this ad should care about. There are others. One that springs to mind is authenticity. This ad doesn’t depict any possible North Dakota, much less one that seems extant in this world. It doesn’t even depict a honestly fake North Dakota.

    The ad appears to depict a bland, semi-suburban any-man’s-land, a slice of faceless Americana that ends up looking and feeling like nowhere at all, and certainly not somewhere you’d want to go.

    I’d say the Fargo image might be better.

      1. I don’t doubt that it is. I come from a very similar sort of place.

        I want this ad to be about the essence of North Dakota instead of dude-kitsch portrait of Fargo, you know what I mean? I want it to *sell* me the state, the je ne sais quoi of North Dakota.

  14. Arrive a guest,
    Leave a legend,
    Because nothing interesting has happened since Mt Rushmore
    No Wait, That’s South Dakota.
    South Dakota.
    So, leave a legend,
    because nothing interesting has ever happened here.

  15. It’s pretty obvious that it’s objectifying the women.  Read the copy then look at the image.  The men are having dinner and drinks and are now checking out the comely ND babes to decide which one they are gonna be legendary with.

    And oh man, check out the commercial

    My guess is that someone in the state capitol of North Dakota has a brother in law that has always wanted to work in advertising and 5 unpaid interns got roped into posing as models.

    On the plus side, the tourism board paid for those awesome new outfits that were on sale at Ross!

  16. Why are the women objects in the ad? It is the poor innocent men that are the ones being ogled behind glass. They were likely enjoying their beers, discussing how legendary ND is when those women just started flirting with them. Those poor men.

  17. It’s like there are only 5 people in North Dakota, and they are really happy that they just found each other.

  18. I’ve been to North Dakota — my mom is from Grand Forks.  It’s gorgeous and the people are really friendly, but it is definitely not hip. I’m not sure that anywhere that gets as many blizzards and tornadoes as they do can ever be called hip.

    And the people there, bless their sweet hearts, are not as attractive as this ad would lead you to believe…

      1. And that’s pretty sad when you think about it, hah!

        I actually love Grand Forks and my mom’s side of the family is quite the legend there (my grandmother and grandfather in particular have big ties to the University and the flight program there).  But hip it ain’t.

  19. Interesting: The men and women are mutually checking each other out. The men are behind the glass (like a zoo). But, your interpretation is that “women are objects”.

    1. It’s all in the framing of the photo. Look at what you can see of the men versus the women. Look at how they’re posed. Look at which side of the glass the ‘viewer’/audience/whatever is on. Sex sells, that’s the cliche- and I don’t think it’s the men here that are on display.

  20. I don’t like a lot of things about this ad, people, several different fonts, etc., but I do want to go somewhere and become a legend, even if it is North Dakota.

    1. I lived in western ND (Dickinson area) briefly in my 20s. It is surprisingly pretty and the people are very nice. Also: crazy cheap cost of living. But it is deeply and profoundly NOT COOL. They found the coolest people in ND for this ad. 

      So: keep making fun of North Dakota, Internet hipsters! You would HATE IT THERE! For God’s sake, STAY AWAY!

  21. That picture is begging for a ‘how would you approach this group’ post at Roissy’s.

  22. If it were the women in the window, perhaps with some gaudy pink lighting, and it was in Amsterdam, then, yes, I’d say the women were being objectified.

  23. It’s all about how the reader of the ad is being positioned in relation to the material.  While the men and the women are both checking each other out, the people who are on display *for the reader of the ad* are the women.  While the women are looking back at the men, they are oriented toward the reader’s gaze and can be seen almost in their entirety.  While the men are being looked at by the women, they are oriented away from the viewer and can’t be seen in their entirety; their angle toward the women simulates that of the viewer.

  24. Take a look at that boot again.  It’s not a cowboy boot, it’s a Chelsea boot with a side zip.  Maybe I’m out of the loop and they’re cool again, but isn’t that about the lamest possible male footgear?

  25. “It’s sleaze as designed by people who have no idea what sleaze is supposed to look like. They’ve just heard about it third-hand from someone who went to Vegas once.”If this is the most damning thing we can conclude about North Dakota, I am TOTALLY MOVING THERE.

  26. I didn’t find this more sexist or objectifying than, oh, say, almost every subway ad or billboard in my hometown of NYC.

    This is just dorky. Aren’t there some beautiful, rolling landscapes or something they could have used? Maybe play-up the wide-open spaces or something?

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