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
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
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
This article was first published on Campaign