Selling Sex and Candy?
I watch some commercials on television and am amazed that the corporate sponsor really signed off on the product. Think about the expressions on the faces of the dark suits in the executive boardroom when they were presented with some of the commercials running on TV right now.
Take Jack In The Box. â€śJack Box,â€ť the fast-food chainâ€™s mascot â€“ a man wearing what looks like a ping-pong-ball head or a snowman getup with a clown hat â€“ is sitting playing a game much like Scrabble with a beautiful blonde. He lays out the non-word â€śswavory,â€ť selling a waffle breakfast sandwich for having savory sausage and sweet maple waffles. The blonde then lays on the board letters reading â€śNo Nookie.â€ť Jack says, â€śWhatâ€™s that supposed to....? Oh.â€ť Is sexual slang really necessary to sell breakfast sandwiches during prime time?
Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn had this reaction to Jackâ€™s misfortune: â€śThe resulting image in my mind's eye is cricky -- a combination of creepy and icky.â€ť
Thatâ€™s not as edgy as a new TV ad for Skittles, the popular childrenâ€™s candy â€“ meaning the ad is targeted to children. It begins with a young woman kissing a walrus. This is not a peck, itâ€™s a moaning makeout session. â€śWhat are you doing?â€ť asks another woman who discovers them. â€śHey this isnâ€™t what it looks like,â€ť says the kissing woman on the couch. â€śGood, because it looks like youâ€™re making out with my boyfriend,â€ť the second woman says. The other replies: â€śThis isnâ€™t Bobby. It just looks like Bobby.â€ť
At least the audience might think the â€śboyfriendâ€ť here might be a human in someoneâ€™s mind. But unlike the Snickers ads, the walrus never becomes someone else. It remains an ugly, flippered, mustachioed walrus. The kissing woman says of the walrus, â€śHe says heâ€™s like these new Skittles Riddles. The colors on the outside donâ€™t match the flavors on the inside.â€ť She flirts with/teases the walrus with the candy, â€śYou canâ€™t have it, you canâ€™t have it,â€ť before returning to the makeout session.
The advocacy group One Million Moms launched a campaign protesting the ad to Wrigley, arguing â€śnot only is it disgusting, it is taking lightly the act of bestiality. While the shock value of this ad may draw attention to your product, it is harmful to children.â€ť
Letâ€™s fact it, this is a thoroughly bizarre way to sell candy to children if the message is focused on taste, quality, nutrition â€“ anything like that. But itâ€™s not. Commercials are designed to be cool, to make young people point and laugh. So the dark-suited executives quietly, and surely uncomfortably, acquiesce. They will agree to try anything to scandalize people into paying attention to their sales pitch.
The walrus in the commercial is not a real animal, but something animatronic. After all, Wrigley doesnâ€™t want to upset the people who protest animal cruelty during filming. On the other hand, upsetting people who protest indecencies to children doesnâ€™t bother them at all.
In the world of print ads, the candy makers at Mentos are using nudity to sell their new â€śPure Freshâ€ť gum â€“ or, to be precise, theyâ€™re covering nudity with their product. In an ad in Maxim, they cover the rear end of a young woman pulling down her panties with a package of gum with the slogan â€śLook, we have gum!â€ť
There are also ads like this in more mainstream magazines with large teenaged readerships. In an ad slated to run in the celebrity glossies People, In Touch, and Us Weekly, the gum covers up an accidentally exposed womanâ€™s breast at â€ś[Wardrobe] Malfunction Junction! She took two steps into the limelight and her dress gave way.â€ť In ad planned for Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine, the Mentos gum package covers the crotch of a streaker at a soccer game.
The ad makers at The Martin Agency of Richmond explained to Ad Week that the ads â€śspotlight the juxtaposition between the innocent quirkiness of Mentos and the not-so-innocent content of the ads.â€ť Translation: Sex sells.
But do they have to use sex to sell products designed for children? Where do they stop? Using sex to sell Capâ€™n Crunch cereal or Oscar Mayer Lunchables? Scripting makeout sessions with Ronald McDonald or Tony the Tiger? How about Butt Naked Barbie having sex with Ken? The world of commercials is devolving just like the rest of television. Shock wins, and good taste is routed.