When I read David Wallis’ recent AdWeek article about the increase of marketing campaigns based on the male appreciation of the female breast, I did so as a man with two completely different agendas.
First I came at it as a professional. Having spent too many years toiling as the world’s least successful author, I accidentally stumbled into a position as a copywriter at a local advertising/marketing firm In January 2011. Part of my job includes writing for the firm’s blog -- a task that suddenly compelled me to have strong opinions about an industry I previously knew best from the 1990 Dudley Moore comedy “Crazy People” (“Sony. Bony.”).
So far this hasn’t been a problem, because I’m one of those obnoxious know-it-all types and forming strong opinions on the basis of relatively little evidence comes very easy to me. In fact, despite having been in advertising for just 18 months, I’d already come to strong conclusions about exactly the kind of ads discussed in Wallis’ piece.
But then at the same time I read it as a guy who really like boobs. There was a time when I was too shy and PC to admit this, but over the years my enthusiasm has simply become too obvious to hide. I think boobs are really, really awesome. That’s why I own these:
So as person who both works in advertising and who harbours a (perhaps unreasonably) strong fondness for yabbos, it would be easy to assume that I wholeheartedly endorse the use of breasts in advertising -- easy but wrong.
The major inescapable problem with boobs in advertising is that they almost always overshadow the product. Take a look at this Campari ad featuring Salma Hayek from a few years back. My personal response to it isn’t to go out and buy the Italian aperitif. Instead, I want to find my copy of “From Dusk ‘Til Dawn” and rewatch the scene where she dances topless with a snake.
In my experience, the only thing boobs make you want to buy are more boobs.
“But asshole,” someone who really doesn’t like me will argue, “you remembered that ad, didn’t you? How can you argue it has no effect?”
“First,” I would respond back, “I prefer numbnuts or jerkwad. Second, I DIDN’T remember who the ad was for. I had to do a Google Image search for ‘Salma Hayek advertisement’ to find what I wanted. The name of the brand had completely vanished from my mind. If all I can remember about an ad is that it featured famous Latin boobs and nothing else, it’s a failed campaign.”
But that’s the ad-guy in me talking. I realize that to most of you the reason these ads are so problematic isn’t because they’re ineffective -- it’s because they’re so blatantly sexist. Not only do they reduce women to body parts without context (breasts in a bra ad make sense, in a car ad, not so much), but they are also based on the equally offensive notion that men are incapable of making any purchasing decision without direct input from their dick.
And this simply isn’t true -- mostly because in many cases these products are actually bought by wives, girlfriends or other female what-have-yous, which takes the opinions of penises straight out of the picture. But even as a single male who is the sole purchaser of stuff I need and/or want I always insist on using my brain when deciding how I’m going to spend my money.
And that’s why when giving the choice between eating chicken wings at a bar with attractive young waitresses in everyday clothes called Fitzwilly’s or doing the same thing at a place with attractive young waitresses in tiny schoolgirl uniforms called Tittsie McGee’s, I’m always going to take the first option, because the second is just too fucking on the nose.
While the numbers mentioned in Wallis’ piece suggest the recent “breastaurant” phenomenon is making a lot of money for its investors, I do have to wonder how long it will take for the men who go to such places to realize that they can enjoy all of the same things without being explicitly skeezy about it. I admit that a fair amount of them live what you might call “an unexamined life,” but I’m enough of an optimist to assume that self-awareness is eventually going to make its way through to the flyover states.
Once that happens, I expect more and more men are going to find themselves having mid-chicken wing epiphanies as they look around the places they’re in and realize, “What the hell am I doing here? I’m not a moron!” (At least strip clubs are honest about what they’re about and don’t make absurd claims to being family-friendly environments -- a lie smartly skewered by Aaron Traistor in a 2011 Salon article.
As both a copywriter and a consumer, I’ve come to loathe cynical campaigns that assume the worst of their target demos. Beyond the obvious objectification, it’s just so lazy and hacky. Any time you see an ad that depends on boobs to get its message across, you’re serving as witness to the end result of a group brainstorming effort that concluded with, “Fuck it, we’ve got nothing. Let’s find a model with huge tits.”
Does this mean there’s no place for breasts in advertising? Of course not. Awhile back there was a minor controversy when an ad for the then-upcoming Jennifer Love Hewitt Lifetime sex-worker drama “The Client List” was released in two versions -- one that used Photoshop to diminish the actress’ famous proportions and another that let them all hang out.
In this specific instance, the use of sex appeal to sell a show about selling sex appeal makes complete logical sense to me. The context works, especially since it is easy to imagine that the breasts in this ad play a major role throughout the course of the show. (If I’m wrong, don’t spoil it for me in the comments -- I’m waiting for the first season to come out on DVD.)
There are also cases of successful breast-related pieces that actually work despite the boobs. For example, Wallis’ piece was apparently inspired by the recent Time Magazine cover that featured Jamie Lynn Gurmet defiantly breastfeeding her 3-year-old son Adam. He suggests that the cover sold so well because of Time’s “cheesecake recipe,” but I find it hard to believe its success was based on Gurmet’s sex appeal. Am I crazy for thinking any potential masturbators might be put off by…I dunno…the toddler attached to her exposed boob? Especially considering he’s looking directly at us and is old enough to appreciate some of the subtler nuances of “C is for Cookie”?
In this case, I would argue the cover’s success wasn’t because it had an uncovered breast on it, but because the mutually confrontational looks on its subject faces (they both seem to be saying, “Yeah, this is happening. What are you going to do about it, you ugly fuckwads?”) were enough to compel people to buy the magazine just so they could say they read it before they blogged about how much it pissed them off or how great it was.
Looking through my iTunes collection, you’d quickly conclude that I love The Ramones more than any other band, but no amount of “Blitzkrieg Bop” in any car commercial is going to convince me to get my driver’s license and spend tens of thousands of dollars on whatever a Pathfinder is.
As much as breasts press down with full force on the happy button in my brain, I can still appreciate how using them purely as props is both dehumanizing to the gender that possesses them, as well to my own. We’re better that. Well, you are. It only took me 30 seconds to gather up the stuff you see in this last photo. Imagine what it would look like if I had been trying.