OPINION: MILLS ON ... GRATUITOUS SEX (IN ADVERTISING)

What’s your view on gratuitous sex? Me, I’m all in favour of it.

What’s your view on gratuitous sex? Me, I’m all in favour of

it.



If there’s one thing wrong with the world, it’s that there’s not enough

gratuitous sex. Fnarr, fnarr.



Alright, I admit it. That opening ploy was nothing more than a cheap

gimmick to get you to read this column. In fact, it’s a bit like an ad I

saw in the papers last week.



The ad had a picture of a man lying in a hospital bed. He is obviously

recovering from major surgery. His wife is giving him a

peck-on-the-cheek type kiss and the headline reads: ’Who says research

can’t be sexy?’ The ad, if you haven’t guessed or seen it, is part of a

campaign for the British Heart Foundation. Its purpose, I suppose, is to

remind readers and potential donors of the necessity of ongoing research

into heart disease - a vital area.



Let’s deal with the obvious point about this ad first. If this man is

recovering from heart surgery, it’s hardly likely that sex, with his

wife or anybody else, is going to be the first thing on his mind - at

least not if he doesn’t want to return to hospital. Medical research is

many things - vital, difficult, expensive - but to suggest that it is

sexy is both cheap and, because it is a missed opportunity to say

something compelling about heart disease, irresponsible.



I’m at a loss to understand why Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO (the agency

behind the ad) felt it needed to stoop to this kind of line. Does

worthiness equal dull in its eyes? Was this just a quick way to spice up

the ad?



Or were the creatives just bored and are they having a joke at our

expense?



Who knows. What I’d guess is that ads like this put off the very people

they’re supposed to attract. What I know is that serious subjects

deserve to be treated seriously in their advertising - which is not to

say they have to have dull advertising.



But don’t let us be too hard on the BHF. The ad is no worse than many

others in what is a long and dishonourable tradition which began with

the garage mechanics calendar. There’s another ad that caught my

eye.



Appearing in the press and on the tube, it’s for an investment

management company called Merchant Investors Assurance. The ad features

a near-naked couple grappling with each other (although he’s still got

his boxers on so they’re obviously not going the whole hog in case he

has a heart attack) and the line: ’Get your hands on a great figure.’

Original or what? What amazes me is that Merchant thinks people will

invest their money - which is a pretty serious business - with an outfit

which thinks that kind of advertising is appropriate.



By and large, there is a rule of thumb which determines that the duller

or less appropriate the product, the more likely you are to see

references to sex. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have any objection to

sex, smut and double entendre in advertising. But I like it where it’s

relevant and appropriate, not where its use demeans the product or

service in question. To do otherwise is to lure the customer in on a

false pretence and that, I think, is one of the greatest follies an ad

can commit.



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