Mark Kelly, a prominent Democratic senatorial candidate in Arizona, has spoken out against an advertising campaign he was a part of for a Swiss watchmaker after it was subsequently decried as a "sexist" marketing ploy.
The former NASA astronaut, who won his Democratic primary bid to take on Republican incumbent Martha McSally in the November election, distanced himself from his former role as a brand ambassador for Breitling in a statement through his campaign on Tuesday.
Mr Kelly’s role as a brand ambassador for the luxury watchmaker received renewed focus this week after a report in HuffPost explored his time serving as a face for Breitling, which included occasionally posing with “scantily clad” women in photos later described as “shamelessly sexist”.
“Mark used their watches during his shuttle missions, and they worked well for him, which is why he decided to work with the company”, Jacob Peters, spokesperson for the Kelly campaign, told the news outlet.
“He thinks it’s right that they have changed their advertising practices”, the campaign spokesperson added.
New: Mark Kelly participated in a sexist watch marketing campaign.
Kelly was an endorser of Breitling watches until he started running for Senate. The company admitted its ads “do not reflect values of today’s society” in 2018.https://t.co/75fDfsFYc4— Kevin Robillard (@Robillard)August 11, 2020
The watchmaker’s marketing strategies transformed when the company brought in a new CEO in 2018. Mr Kelly’s role as an ambassador for the watchmaker ended before he launched his Senate campaign last year.
Still, the McSally campaign used the focus on Mr Kelly’s former agreement with Breitling as an opportunity to attack her Democratic opponent, who was ahead of her in the latest state polling.
Caroline Anderegg, communications director for the McSally campaign, told HuffPost in a statement: “Mark Kelly’s willing participation in this type of blatantly sexist marketing campaign is gross, and his refusal to apologise further proves he hasn’t learned his lesson.”
She added: “Arizonans deserve a leader like Martha McSally who has been a pioneer for women and girls, not a sleezy salesman who enables the objectification of women and will do anything to make a quick buck.”
As the news outlet noted, Ms McSally has been a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, who has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women.
Female pilots reportedly condemned the Breitling advertisements at the time. In some photos, Mr Kelly could be seen posing with women in short black dresses on either side of him in front of a plane.
Describing his decision to end the marketing campaign, Breitling CEO Georges Kern reportedly told a Swiss newspaper: “I stopped them immediately.”
“Some customers thought they were funny,” he added. “But such clips were no longer suitable and do not reflect values of today’s society.”