OPINION: Cowen on ... Coco De Mer

I may be stating the blindingly obvious here, but it seems as if

Saatchi & Saatchi is going out of its way to whip up complaints about

the poster campaign for Coco De Mer. It's not so much that the sex

shop's ads purport to show the faces of men and women mid-orgasm, it's

rather the details that have been breathlessly allowed to circulate

about Frank Budgen's shoot, with models stimulating themselves and then

clicking the camera shutter at climax time.

Such juicy titbits seem designed to cause maximum stimulation to easily

shocked mid-market journalists and easily excited tabloid ones. They

could also be the final straw pushing the ASA over the edge and scoring

a publicity-generating ban.

All of this is a generally accepted way of extending the reach of your

"erotic" campaign these days - witness The Mirror's front-page coverage

of Kylie's Agent Provocateur ad last week or fcukinkybugger snapping up

free PR without airing. The bar for risque is rising all the time and

with Coco competing for column inches with Ann Summers, Agent

Provocateur, Marks & Spencer and anyone who pops a model into a bra, you

have to go a little bit further to scandalise anybody.

You could even argue that Saatchis' decision to develop two campaign

strands seems insurance against the likely outcome. The orgasm shots are

designed to run parallel with less hardcore executions demonstrating the

amazing similarities between the inside of cabbages, wallpaper edges,

birds' wings and vaginas.

If "orgasm" gets the bullet, then this strand of the campaign will

survive with all the more kudos attached.

If you ask me, though, a ban would be a real pity. These ads are


They're attention-grabbing, obviously, but they also offer a real

differentiation from the way sex - and sex shops - tend to be sold these


For a start, these posters are unisex. They're also uni-age and


They're not exploiting the young or the naive. They don't encourage

paedophilia or any other deviance.

Finally, and refreshingly, they're not using gender politics as an

excuse to talk about sex - unlike most racy lingerie ads and the

high-street sex shops positioning themselves as an extension of "girl

power". They cut through all the dubious waffle whereby the dildo

becomes the ultimate symbol of female empowerment. Instead, they get

straight to the point.

Sex is tremendous, exciting, extremely amusing and open to men and

women, the ugly, the old and the terminally geeky looking.

The risk with a campaign like this is that by presenting sex at its most

stripped down and natural, it rather begs the question of why we need

the gadgets that Coco sells in order to get the most out of it. This is

the biggest challenge sex shops face in broadening their appeal - and

the reason why so many position their products as clinical, hassle-free

substitutes for men.

Does Coco have anything to offer that red-blooded people, with a healthy

imagination and a range of household implements, can't come up with for


The ads present a bold and artistic solution to this problem. Taken by

themselves, the images - even the orgasms - are fairly ambiguous. It's

only the addition of the Coco branding that confirms we're dealing with

sex. Coco becomes the filter that turns our minds towards the horny -

and for a sex shop attempting to broaden its appeal, you can't get

better branding than that.

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