Opinion: It’s All About Context
Earlier this month, Dublin City Council announced it was to take legal action against Abercrombie & Fitch over the giant ad adorning the front of its work-in-progress College Green store. The official reason was that A&F didn’t have planning permission to put an ad up there, but the decision sparked debate among the public on whether or not the content of the ad was appropriate.
Radio shows that opened the topic up to their listeners received texts from women supporting the ad, while indignant men claimed that women had double standards over the issue of sexuality in advertising.
Last week, the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland upheld a complaint made against the recent provocative Club Orange ad, sparking another round of debate over the issue. Again radio shows discussed the topic, but this time they received texts from women who were glad to see the back of the ads, while men claimed they were ‘just a bit of fun’.
So when is it alright to use sex in an ad? Does it depend on the product being advertised or whether the advert is humorous? Is it a case of high-brow versus low-brow? Or is it ever alright to use sex when selling a product?
Club Orange’s ads over recent years have contained provocatively dressed women asking ‘Do you like my bits?’ while shoving their breasts at the camera. This ad and the debate surrounding it was reminiscent of the Hunky Dorys ads that caused controversy back in 2010. The ads were promoting the product’s sponsorship of Irish rugby and contained images of beautiful, well-endowed women wearing skimpy uniforms while posing seductively with a rugby ball.The problem here, as with Club Orange, was the complete lack of connection between the product and the method used to promote it. In fact, the brand wasn’t even sponsoring the female tournaments. Hunky Dorys also received complaints over their ads promoting their sponsorship of gaelic football the following year, which were nearly identical to the rugby ads, but instead contained a round ball - another disconnect between message and audience.
When it comes to using sex in ads, context is key. Club Orange is a soft drink (insert ‘nothing’s soft after watching those ads’ joke here) and as a product, has nothing to do with the human form. Nobody drinks it to improve their physique or to get laid and therefore a woman’s voluptuous breasts really have no place in advertising it. Especially when you consider that children and teenagers are the main target market for fizzy drinks. On the other hand, the A&F ad causing trouble in Dublin’s City Centre shows the sculpted torso of a man, which aims to promote the type of customer they want in their store and also the (incredibly) low-hanging jeans he’s wearing. See? Context.
It’s important to understand that advertising agencies must sell a lifestyle when they sell a product. Perfume ads are notoriously racy and suggestive, but again, it’s all in context. When a man or woman buys scent, they do it because they want to smell nice and more than likely they want to smell appealing to somebody else, who they can eventually have sex with. Lynx have aired some funny ads that depict women as helpless sex fiends in the presence of a nerdy guy just because he’s wearing the brand’s newest creation. And that’s okay! It’s entertaining and, let me hear it, in context. Similarly, it makes every sense for David Beckham’s boxer ads or the Victoria Secrets girls to be sexy, because we all want to feel sexy and seductive when we’re stripped down to our undergarments and are therefore more likely to buy a product that emulates our desires. It’s not just a product, it’s a lifestyle. It’s all relevant.
However, girls who play competitive rugby can’t afford to be as delicate or stupidly dressed as the women in those Hunky Dorys ads, in the same way that it would be nonsensical for women who work in a factory to dress in those skimpy outfits worn by the Club Orange girls. It was a poor, unimaginative and transparent excuse to use provocative women in an attempt to cause controversy. Because that was the aim of those companies at the end of the day. They didn’t want to create a clever ad – they wanted the quick buck, so they decided to piss off liberal women, while receiving metaphorical high fives from men who hadn’t mentally progressed past the age of 14.
The ASAI were right to ban the Club Orange ad. While it may be a bit of fun to some men, it’s insulting not just to women, but to anyone with any sort of self-respect. These companies have such a low opinion of you that they think a pair of double-Ds is all it takes to sell a product to you. And they were right! Look at how much press they’ve gotten. But don’t you want more from your ads? They interupt your TV shows and float across the pages you view on the internet – if they are going to inconvenience you in this way, shouldn’t they at least give you something in return? Don’t you want their respect?
So down with ‘sex for the sake of sex’ in ads. We’re better than that and Advertising People, you COULD be better than that. Make your mothers proud and our world a better place.