OPINION: HARRISON ON ... SMUT IN ADVERTISING

By STEVE HARRISON, creative partner at HPT, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 03 December 1999 12:00AM

Recently, Stefano Hatfield admonished an agency whose ad was featured in the Turkey of the Week slot with the two wisest words I’ve seen in Campaign for some time: ’Grow up’. He’s right. It’s time the industry emerged from the second childhood into which it has regressed. Where there was wit and charm, there is now smut. The sluice gates were opened ironically enough by two great campaigns: Wonderbra and Club 18-30. Here the tits and smut were germane to the product. Since then, product relevance has been abandoned for prurient irreverence.

Recently, Stefano Hatfield admonished an agency whose ad was

featured in the Turkey of the Week slot with the two wisest words I’ve

seen in Campaign for some time: ’Grow up’. He’s right. It’s time the

industry emerged from the second childhood into which it has regressed.

Where there was wit and charm, there is now smut. The sluice gates were

opened ironically enough by two great campaigns: Wonderbra and Club

18-30. Here the tits and smut were germane to the product. Since then,

product relevance has been abandoned for prurient irreverence.



Maybe I’m just a prude. Perhaps ’For men with big ticks’ and ’Look at

the pits on that’ are smart ways to advertise deodorant. Maybe French

red wine should be positioned as a leg opener and advertised like

lingerie, and maybe a new cola cries out to be launched by a cartoon

nymphet and the line ’Open your mouth, I’m coming’. It could be there’s

no better way to promote the buying of books online than showing two

naked people reading while making love. Likewise, the best way to sell

shirts might well be to show two people having altogether more vigorous

sex against a wall.



All the above are posters, which means they are shown to everyone from

children to grannies, regardless of whether they wish to see them or

not.



But what of the more discreet media? Well in TV, we have models in their

undies bouncing on space hoppers and software being sold by Chippendales

from outer space. In print, just open any magazine at random. My own

pick would be the couple mid-bonk and the line: ’I like safe sex and

dangerous cheese.’



Is the public offended? Well, Campaign’s own research says 40 per cent

of viewers feel there’s ’too much sex in advertising’. Other surveys

suggest that women of all ages support this view. We’ve certainly

alienated the most lucrative market - the greys. When asked by Carat

Insight what made a good ad, just 1 per cent said ’sex’. I suspect that

most ’grown-ups’ feel the same. For example, those aged 45 plus who

account for 56 per cent of new car purchases: do they really respond to

a campaign that relies on a double entendre about the importance of the

size of their penis?



No, they probably think it rather silly. And this is the real danger of

too much juvenilia. The public will increasingly see advertising as

trivial. It already exists on the periphery of their lives. The more

vulgar it gets, the more marginal it becomes.



So why do agencies do it? Well, first, it’s easy. Sexual innuendo isn’t

called a cheap laugh for nothing. Secondly, given the current obsession

with attracting publicity, being rude appears to be the quickest way to

generate column inches. As I said, it’s easier than thinking up

something clever like the Iceland commercials, amusing like the Nandos

posters or subtle like the Gordon’s Gin ads. There’s another reason.

Until a few weeks ago, no-one was ready to say ’grow up’. Hopefully, a

few people will put down their copies of Loaded long enough to take

notice.



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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