Television viewers and magazine readers reacted sharply in 1980 when teenage actress and model Brooke Shields appeared in a North America-wide advertising campaign for Calvin Klein jeans. At the time, she declared, “Nothing comes between me and my Calvins.” But that onceprovocative line now seems understated as ad agencies increasingly resort to raciness—mainly nudity and, in one controversial instance, thinly disguised obscenity—to sell products.
The competition—and the advertising excesses—are particularly intense in the crowded $5.2-billion North American fragrance industry, which generates large ad revenues for newspapers and magazines. But The New York Times and Women's Wear Daily in the United States have refused to accept an ad which features a model swearing as he talks about designer Perry Ellis’s fragrance for men. And although the cologne’s distributor will not use the ad in Canada until the fall, some Canadian publishers may reject it. Declared Bruce Drane, publisher of
Maclean Hunter’s Chatelaine magazine: “We have turned down softer stuff. These guys are going too far.”
The Perry Ellis ad is unusually blunt. In recent issues of such U.S. magazines as Esquire and Cosmopolitan, a fullpage photograph shows model Matt
Advertising agencies are resorting to raciness— mainly nudity and, once, thinly disguised obscenity—to sell their products
Norklun lounging in an opened shirt. And in a 260-word monologue on the opposite page he explains that he “may model for a living but I hate being treated like a piece of meat.” Then he endorses the spicy cologne, which costs $26 for a 50 mL bottle, by adding: “Oh, yeah, about this fragrance. It’s good. When the photo shoot was over I walked right over, picked up the bottle, put
it in my pocket. Then I smiled my best f—you smile and walked out.”
The text in most other ads is less pungent, but half-dressed men and women also sell such items as Guerlain perfume, Pierre Cardin musk for men, Anne Klein bath products, Piz Buin suntan lotion and Guess? jeans. And New York-based fashion designer Calvin Klein has once again caught consumers’ attention and drawn criticism from women’s organizations for his most recent offerings: ads with nude and seminude models promoting Obsession fragrances for men and women. One current ad for the men’s fragrance appears in such U.S. publications as Glamour and Cosmopolitan. It features four nude women posed together on one page. But Edmund Pearce, a spokesman for Toronto-based Comae Communications Ltd., said that his company’s nine magazines likely would not accept such explicit ads. Said Pearce: “There are lines that I think you shouldn’t cross in a publication.” Still, another current Obsession ad—with a nude woman entwined with two nude men—encountered no difficulty gaining acceptance in 10 Canadian magazines, including Comae’s City Woman and Maclean Hunter’s Flare.
For her part, Teresa Chan, product manager for Limoges Cosmetics Ltd. in Toronto, said that the Obsession ads
especially draw consumers’ attention to the perfume, which costs $240 for a 30-mL bottle. Said Chan: “You want them to look and look again, so that they ask themselves, ‘What the hell is he doing?’ ” But Tova Wagman, a spokesman for Media Watch, a Vancouver-based organization which monitors sexual stereotyping in the media, said that she had received complaints about the Obsession ads.
Said Wagman: “All imagery is prone to teaching behavior. The Calvin Klein ads are straight objectification—women as decorative objects.”
Some advertisers have already modified their promotions for the Canadian market.
Although Calvin Klein says that he has no plans to alter the $23-million Obsession ad campaign, his company’s Canadian copywriters have in the past altered U.S.-produced ads for his jeans. One of the most recent ads, which appeared on more than 100 billboards across the country last
March, showed a young woman in shirt and jeans leaning against a ladder. But the artwork which arrived from Klein’s New York office clearly showed the model’s fly unzipped. Said Beryl MacLeod, Toronto-based marketing services manager for Calvin Klein jeans, “We weren’t willing to
take the risk, so we closed her fly.”
Meanwhile, Michael Stern, president of Parfums Stern Inc., the New York City company which markets Perry Ellis fragrances, dismisses the furore over the “f—” in his perfume ad. Said Stern: “It is the most commonly used word in the garment district. It is a very natural way of expressing yourself.” And Stern has even tried to use the controversy as a means of drawing attention to the fragrance. When Women's Wear Daily refused to run the ad early in May, Stern substituted an ad that invited readers to write to Stern for a copy of the original ad and a free sample of the cologne. Since that ad appeared on May 9, said Stern, thousands of readers have responded.
For Rochelle Udell, the New York art director who helped create the Perry Ellis ad, the controversy demonstrates that words can be as effective as scantily clad models. Said Udell: “Most fragrance advertising is based on visuals. My feeling is that words are quite powerful.” Indeed, the ad has met one of Madison Avenue’s primary objectives: getting consumers to notice the product. Added Udell: “I would much rather have people be delighted or enthralled or detest the stuff than to turn the page.”
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