Monday, June 12, 2006

Sex in the streets

More than twenty years ago, when I was just starting out as a freelance illustrator, I airbrushed a "chromed" logo used on the packaging of a video called "Hershey Highway" -- a film I cannot recommend as I have not seen it. This assignment was not my sole dalliance in the genre. I confess these facts to prove that I am no prude and not easily startled.

Yet even I was surprised by the "Joe's Jeans" billboard visible on the corner of Sunset and Laurel Canyon. The ad features -- how to put this delicately? -- the prelude to a blowjob. Basically, a man's very bare butt takes up much of the right side of the image. Before him, a lovely open-mouthed young blonde in a tight black miniskirt leans down, obviously en route to the assumption of The Position. No jeans (by Joe or anyone else) are in sight.

Later that day, I passed another clothing billboard on San Vicente Blvd. The image depicts a woman straddling a man -- both clothed, but nevertheless unquestionably engaged in sexual congress.

Still later, I passed a bench ad placed by another jeans company. In this case, we had an extreme close-up of a woman licking her lips, her tongue slick with a glistening substance that may not have been just saliva. No clothing in sight. The image seemed to be advertising her services as a fellatrice.

Was I offended? Not really. But I am bewildered.

You see, I've spent some years in the advertising game, and I understand that fashion merchandisers desperately strive to convey an image of sexiness: "Buy our product and you'll sleep with really attractive members of the opposite sex. We PROMISE." I also understand that there is a venerable tradition of apparel advertising designed to shock and to arouse controversy -- Calvin Klein's "junkie" campaign comes to mind.

I guess what shocks me is the total absence of the product. Even the Calvin Klein junkies wore Calvin Klein clothing. These new ads do not make the merchandise appear sexy because the merchandise has vanished. These ads show sex. And that's it.

Does this approach actually work? I mean, if you drove down Sunset and saw a huge photo of a miniskirted cutie about to drop to her knees in front of a naked guy, would your first thought be: "Jeans. Gotta buy some. Sold American!"?

How many other products could make use of such tactics? I'm visualizing a billboard that tastefully depicts two 20-somethings engaged in -- oh, I dunno, cunnilingus. Male/female or female/female; either one will work. And when you look closely at the bottom right-hand corner, you'll see these words: "WES CLARKE 2008."

Like it or not, it's the future of advertising.


Anonymous said...

The day any ads for anything (well, in the U.S., anyway) feature any women getting oral sex, we really will be in the future.

DrewL said...

Perhaps the old adage that "sex sells" isn't quite accurate, but it certainly captures one's attention, if nothing else. I suspect in a present-day world in which advertisements come at us from every possible direction at every possible moment, anything to capture just a glimpse from a would-be customer is all advertisers are trying to accomplish. And if that glimpse turns into a gander as one attempts to comprehend just what that woman is bending down to do to the bare-buttocked man, well, then the all-important connection is...uh...consummated.

Anonymous said...

Not just sleep with members of the opposite sex, but of the same sex. Nowadays there is a noticeable leaning towards gay advertising.
OR even young members of the opposite sex. Remember that disturbing ad campaign by Calvin Klein (first start off with a young Brooke Shields asking what comes between her and her Calvins... and up through 1995 with that looks like amateur porn shots...)

Ms. Vandal

Anonymous said...

You may not be offended, but I am. I have children, and it infuriates me that this culture is so cynically saturated in sexual images and allusions. I took the boys to see Xmen3, and midway through the movie the cartoonish action suddenly shifts into an onscreen act of rough sex--between two mutants. The act was mercifully not consummated, but it went way past the point where even a child might pretend they were "just kissing and stuff."

A child is not allowed to have an innocent childhood today. This has gone way past "sex sells." At some level of deliberateness, our culture is systematically eradicating innocence and modesty and the magic of physical intimacy. You don't have to be a Republican to be dismayed, or angry about it.

Anonymous said...

Is it maybe also that the first wave of kids who didn't consider blowjobs to actually be "sex" have moved up into positions where they can use an advertising campaign of this sort?

Peter of Lone Tree said...

I finally understand the secret to your blogging success.
You are a sly expert in languages.
Or, to put it another way,
you're a cunning linguist.