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Staid U.S. Marketers Try Out Racier Ads


Several traditional marketers have embraced racy ads in a bid to break through the clutter -- and are stirring up very little protest.

A host of other advertisers also are showing more skin. BuyMusic.com, a new music-download service that was launched last week, uses a photo of rocker Tommy Lee, practically in the buff, to capture attention. TeenAIDS, a youth organization, has aired a disturbing spot depicting a naked male teen getting electrocuted by a toaster. "Why do we make bad decisions when we're naked?" the ad asks.

Remember the tumult that surrounded programs with heightened levels of sexual innuendo or flashes of nudity, such as "Married ... With Children" or "NYPD Blue"? Some advertisers that once shunned such controversy now are changing their approach.

A print ad for a "citrus infusion" variety of Gillette's Satin Care shave gel features an unclothed female model resting on her side atop a sea of lemons, limes and grapefruits. The fruit obscures her breasts. A Gillette spokeswoman says the image is consistent with past advertising for Gillette products that promote smooth skin.

No big deal, marketers insist. A Nike spokeswoman says a recent commercial that shows a tastefully obscured male streaker interrupting a soccer match recreates the European sports-fan experience.

Not everyone is thrilled. Bill Johnson, president of the American Decency Association, a nonprofit organization based in Fremont, Mich., worries about the easy availability of racy material. "If it's placed before your eyes, there is an acclimatization to it," he says.

Some think the latest array of clothes-free commercials reflects a yearning for simpler times, after a period fraught with stress, terrorism and a tough economy. By doffing garments in ads, marketers can say, "Isn't this silly and ridiculous, after all we've been through over the past few years?' " says Ellen Ratchye-Foster, a trend analyst with Publicis Groupe's Fallon Worldwide. "OK, what am I going to do but laugh?"

Seeing a naked body in public is increasingly common -- at least in the entertainment business. This past season, "NYPD Blue," the gritty cop drama on Walt Disney's ABC, showed actress Charlotte Ross nearly nude. The DreamWorks SKG movie "Old School," released earlier this year, makes great sport of actor Will Ferrell drunkenly streaking down a neighborhood street. When his wife and her girlfriends pick him up, they seem more amused than offended.

Even Dow Jones, publisher of The Wall Street Journal, has gotten into the act. A television ad for Dow Jones NewsPlus, a Web-based offering from Dow Jones Newswires, features a female streaker (actually in a body stocking) dashing through the set. "Don't you hate it when you just miss something?" asks a female voice-over. Dow Jones says the ad was originally created for a European audience.

Indeed, continental European marketers have long used nudity to promote products. They say they welcome the change in attitude here.

"The U.S. is a younger country," and finally starting to mature, observes Antonio Bertone, director of global brand management for Puma's Puma International. Skinny-dipping plays a role in one of the sportswear company's recent illustrated print ads.

Sometimes, though, it is better to be buttoned-down. Midas, which provides automotive services, ran a TV commercial last year depicting an elderly woman removing her top, although no skin was revealed on camera. "It did not improve retail sales while it was airing," spokesman Bob Troyer says.

Posted on aef.com: August 5, 2003

 

Brian Steinberg, The Wall Street Journal. July 31, 2003

Copyright © 2003 Dow Jones & Company. All rights reserved.

 

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