Carefree Actifresh – The “Vagina” Word TV ad

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Much of my recent postings have been around the subject of “taste”.

This is taste in terms of what advertising should and shouldn’t say and suggest around traditionally taboo subjects. As well as examples of poor taste propped up by the excuse of irreverence and tongue in cheek (Lynx being a shocker)

Some would argue that taste is a subjective measure of what we as individuals deem appropriate as advertising.

I think that the question of taste or advertising standards is more than that. We need to arbitrate in these matters on behalf of the mass market majority who are exposed to the advertising – particularly when it is on TV. Rather than crushing creativity, this should actually prompt more ingenious, imaginative solutions to communication.

The creative community can argue that we should break these taboos – use the word vagina when discussing feminine hygiene. Show explicit imagery to demonstrate problems (accidents / disease etc). Many might suggest that we are lessening the creative impact by embargoing these words and images.

At the risk of sounding conservative on creativity, I don’t agree.

I think that this ad is a beautifully produced ad. It captures the attention and the dialogue is relevant and motivating to the target. The last thing it needed was the seemingly gratuitous inclusion of the word vagina. I don’t think this inclusion adds anything to comprehension or awareness of the message. It just shocks the casual viewer, as in “did they just say that”?

Are we to imagine that the target didn’t get the message and needed to be alerted to it through hearing vagina in the monologue?

In the words of Johnson & Johnson:

“We have decided to take a bold approach in this campaign with the aim to tackle a subject which has always been taboo.”

I don’t think the language is going to make this a bold ad on a taboo subject.

There is a lot of debate on it at present. Daye Moffitt, brand strategy director at creative agency Moon, offered a female perspective.

“Personally, it makes me cringe, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing and I do think it is a good strategy. The shock tactic helps with getting young women to listen up – it gets their attention in a very loud marketplace.  It’s an effective and memorable ad, certainly.”

With the greatest respect to Daye, I think that cringe is the issue – imagine how parents with teenage boys respond when they hear it.

As anticipated the Australian Advertising Standards Bureau has received over 30 complaints since the ad first screened on Sunday evening. A spokesperson for the ASB said:

 “Most of the complaints are about the terminology that’s used and the nakedness of the woman,”

Interesting that the nudity got so much attention, suggesting how conservative our viewers really are.

The creative challenge reaches beyond the use of explicit or provocative language. And “vagina” can be considered as explicit language to many in the mass market living rooms.

Creativity needs to find new ways of reaching into the consciousness of viewers. Ways that don’t rely on gimmicks, tricks and controversy.

The ad is good, not great, and the inclusion of the word vagina merely serves to draw attention to the word not the problem or brand. Probably at the cringing discomfort of many women who would rather not shout it loud and proud from the living room floor.

These women are after all the target market and discretion in communication is perhaps more relevant and motivating than the vagina monologue.

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Lynx “Clean your balls” with Sophie Monk.

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I used to think that Lynx prided themselves in clever advertising.

Lynx have built a brand around the promise to pre-pubescent boys that using Lynx makes you irresistible to the opposite sex.

This has been done with wit, irreverence and a clever tongue in cheek sense of humour to the most part.

This latest work featuring Sophie Monk (a red flag in itself) was directly, scene for scene, copied from an existing AXE ad in the US? Surely just looking at the US effort would force you to question the merits of this campaign, not encourage you to repeat the mistake?

The online ad exploits the hilarious double entendre of the phrase ‘clean your balls’ as Sophie Monk demonstrates the grime-removal strength of Lynx gel on “hairy balls” (tennis balls), “saggy balls” (deflated medicine balls) and an African American man’s “big ball sack” (a netted bag of soccer balls).

3 minutes of the same puerile joke.

No sitting on the fence, no excuses, it is an absolute shocker.

It was done in conjunction with ZOO magazine and is described as

“provocative, tongue-fully-planted-in-cheek campaign”.

Really?

I think they got it very wrong.

Even more amazing when you also consider that the ‘Clean your balls’ campaign follows Lynx’s controversial ‘Rules of rugby’ campaign which was removed at the behest of the Advertising Standards Bureau last year after complaints that it objectified women.

Collective Shout, a lobby group that campaigns against the sexualisation of advertising, has put in a complaint to the Advertising Standards Bureau.

Tankard Reist, co-founder of Collective Shout said that:

“objectifying women” in these “hyper-sexualised scenes” is actually harmful, adding: “They contribute to an ongoing second-class status of women.”

There is a big difference between “sexy advertising” or irreverent tongue in cheek humour and bad taste and there is no excuse for suggesting that this is what the target responds to. A few people have used this generalisation in support of the work. It actually suggests a level of disregard for the target’s ability to comprehend a clever piece of advertising and justifies cheap work that throws the industry back 10 years.

Previous Lynx work (ref Angels or Anarchy House or Snow Angles ) is far superior to this effort, generating a much more aspirational and positive brand image and Unilever should prepare themselves for a trade (if not consumer) backlash.

As Mumbrella said:

One hundred and eighty seconds around one double innuendo. Somebody had to come home from work knowing that they made this”. 

Dee Madigan, the respected creative director of Madigan Communications and a panellist on ABC1’s The Gruen Transfer, said the Lynx ”cleans your balls” advertisement was suited to its target audience.

”Young males like to go against the grain,” she said. ”Doing something sexist and offensive, that’s kind of the strategy.”

I couldn’t disagree more. This is confusing irreverence with irrevocable bad taste and poor advertising, defended by a lack of insight on the target. Industry figures should strive for a smarter, aspirational solution otherwise the industry will continue to be derided by on-lookers.

Not what the brand or industry needs and surely Sophie Monk isn’t that desperate to get work?

And as a postscript, the advert has (finally!) been censured after a slew of complaints to the ad watchdog.

Bizarrely, the Advertising Standards Board (ASB) decided that the ad was not derogatory to women, but said

“with the exception of the depiction of the older man, the depictions were not offensive or demeaning to any person or section of society”.

Not so sure myself!

The Board noted the concerns that the advertisement is offensive and discriminates against elderly men in particular as it refers to their “old saggy balls not being played with for years”.

The Board considered that the older man is depicted in a negative manner with the inference in the advertisement being that the older man does not receive any attention due to his age. The Board considered that this is a negative depiction of an older person and that this depiction does amount to discrimination against older men.”

In response to the findings Unilever said:

“The men who appear in the commercial are representative of a wide range of age groups, from young to old, and all of them are portrayed in a humorous and good-natured way. It was never the intention of the commercial to discriminate against  elderly people”

The elderly man is an object of ridicule. Unilever should not try to defend the indefensible.

A classic case of misinterpreting “irreverence” and “tongue in cheek” and stereotyping men and women – not clever work at all.

But if Unilever are repentant it is interesting to see them respond to the censure of the ‘clean your balls’ ad with a new online video featuring a mock press conference loaded with more dirty ball references

This is a desperate brand attempt to be funny and a further replication of the US mistake. For such an occasionally great brand it is a massive error of judgement.
And not funny. Perhaps the ASB will agree.