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    Advertising trails behind the naked front

    Walk through your local shopping centre and you will be accosted by countless near-naked ladies showing off their underwear or their fancy perfume from large, backlit metrolites.
    Open most magazines and a pair of frolicking naked oldies will confront you. On late night TV, seductive ladies will invite you to “call me now”. And of course, on the internet anything goes.
    No wonder Senator Fielding and Minister Helen Coonan railed against our sexualised advertising and marketing.
    But how bad is it really? You’ll remember as a schoolkid sneaking a look into the office of the local mechanic where inevitably some naked lovely would be staring down from the calendar on his wall. Chances are the picture was racier than you’d find there today. So the phenomenon isn’t new, just more blatant.
    And despite what’s said in Parliament, no advertising in Australia today is pornography. That’s what you find on the internet, not in Woman’s Day. What we see in our media is more like a peep show. To use an old-fashioned word, it’s burlesque marketing.
    Burlesque is like the fan dancer who shows a bit, teases a lot, but runs behind the curtain at the last moment. Because the fact is that advertising is always several steps behind the front line of social acceptance.
    Last night on free-to-air TV, you will have seen more sexuality in the programs than you would ever find in the commercials that sandwiched them. You will have heard language to make a sailor blush, that even now I could not write in this magazine let alone print in the ads in proximity.
    Society sets its limits of tolerance firstly through individual interaction. You’ll speak with your friends in a way you’d never dream of speaking with your mother. Then fiction picks it up – all the great censorship scandals have been about books, whether Lady Chatterley or Ulysses or Portnoy’s Complaint. It was another 20 years before the first-ever condom ad ran.
    And then there’s the problem that most of the time, sex is not a very good sales tool. Too often you remember the foxy lady or lad and totally overlook the product they are selling.
    The lightly clothed girl for Midnight Poison looks very much like the model for Coco Mademoiselle, who’s shielding her attributes with a bowler hat. Come to think of it, the most memorable thing is the bowler hat.
    Virgin as usual has taken the tack of trying to shock us by showing naked old folk, demonstrating that they haven’t forgotten how it’s done, in their campaign for Virgin Home Loans.
    The mechanic’s calendar featured a nude because a photo of the product – articulated steering widgets or whatever would never have made it onto the wall. But she did not make a very persuasive case for the widgets.
    Now I’ve just received an expensive brochure telling me I can protect my children from internet nasties. Not that I have any littleys. When mine were that age, no blocking software would have kept them from finding what they weren’t supposed to see. Any more than the mechanic was ever able to stop me peeking into his office.
    Ray Beatty runs MarketingSolutions, a consultancy advising companies on how to turn around their unsuccessful advertising campaigns. www.ebeatty.com
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