Friday, March 31, 2006

Does 'SEX' sell in advertising ?

Adertising in the seventies was largely predictable, pretentious and politically correct. Sure, there were the occasional creative leaps; but by and large, adventurism in terms of bold, audacious, provocative material was few and far between. Into this cutesy, near-idyllic setting came the Liril campaign which blew everyone’s mind to kingdom come for both the style and substance, concept and execution! The very idea of a young, attractive filly, freaking out uninhibited, under a waterfall in a skimpy bikini, zonked the imagination of the junta as never before!

Alyque Padamsee and Lintas’s contention that joy, youthfulness, freshness and fantasy can be successfully fused into one explosive USP was a landmark in the sex-in-advertising approach, proving that aesthetics and sensuousness could be seductive and best-selling consumer propositions. In time, more advertising that meshed relevance with skin flowed in and the rest is history!

However, it was the KamaSutra condom campaign that went where no one ever dared to go…it can truly be said to be the mother-of-all in this genre! It had the audacity to go upfront, flaunt a condom – earlier connected with boring family planning and protection against Aids messages – as an object of desire and position it as a sexy ally designed solely ‘for the pleasure of making love’. The client Gautam Singhania was young, dynamic and cool and the Lintas team – led by the irrepressible Alyque

Padamsee – turned on the heat to come out with a campaign that broke every rule in the book only to re-write several of its very own! “Condoms are for sex, for love-making, not for blowing balloons,” wise-cracked Padamsee, targeting the ‘hormone-on–high-gear” 18 to 30 bracket.
Padamsee believed that the very concept and perception of condoms as bad news could be altered forever by attractive imaging and packaging. “A product is buyable only when it’s desirable,” he insisted.

Viagrising the campaign was the ‘bindas Bedi babe’ Pooja, whose image (even then) as the liberated, don’t–give–a–damn, super cool chic, lent explosive credence to the communication tone, tenor and pitch.

Teaming up with hunk Marc Robinson, Pooja revealed nothing more than (maybe!) one un-buttoned peep, but her body language and attitude swung the message, loud and clear to an ecstatic target base, inspiring Padamsee to believe that the follow-up campaign should have a line to the effect that even well-dressed men wear KamaSutra to bed!

The flag wavers and moral high priests did attempt to roadblock the KS campaign, but couldn’t because it was not obscene or vulgar in thought, word or presentation. Needless to say it was landmark stuff and served as a watershed in this brand of daring, creative, breakthrough advertising, merely because it was both provocative and relevant.

Ad lore has it that when some young fan of the celebrity author – journalist Kushwant Singh yelled, “Hi KS”, the Sardar jumped to his feet to retort, “Don’t call me that. People may get the wrong idea!”

So, Does Sex Sell…?

In many ways, KS was a catalyst for the more daring leaps into this forbidden area, but the point that begs articulation is that why this huge hue and cry or deafeningly uncomfortable silence when the three lettered word is tossed into public domain? Why does it appear to be like a hand-grenade with its mouth open every time it comes into focus?

Hi-profile photographer, Prabuddha Das Gupta, whose sensuous lensing of the KS campaign and sensitive work on the female form remains outstanding, has his very own take. “Frankly for me, there are no easy or simplistic answers. It’s a huge, loaded issue complete with moral and political baggage. If sexuality would be accepted as a normal human function by society, this question would never need to be probed. Are questions about love, illness or death ever probed so deeply or passionately? No. This hush-hush, nudge-wink pattern that it has been reduced to because of a kind of social taboo has made sex a dirty word and lent it a very titillating edge in a wider context, advertising included.” Das Gupta is convinced that if the Adfrat, ever on the lookout for any route or vehicle to garner the desired results, uses sex as a selling tool, it’s simply because it is a highly desirable commodity, across the board, available only in limited quantity in terms of public consumption!

“If you have a look at TV channels, the look, clothes, presentation and body language reeks of sex. Is there a link or a connect between music and flesh-flash coming at you 24x7? Of course not, but hey, heard any complaints lately?,” he asks. The ace photographer also believes that because of this single-minded one dimensionality (across different channels and genres), sex has been reduced to a male dominated, woman-as-a-sex-object commodification that sends out the wrong signals.
Add to it the terrifyingly seductive claws of the beauty business, with its promises of ugly-duckling-to-beautiful-swan and the rags-to-riches carrots dangling in front of them and confusion becomes a million times more confounded! “I have a sixteen year old daughter and I can see how difficult it is for her to cope with the barrage of images and promises blitzed at her all the time, in their agenda to convert her into a desirable sexual being. It’s a nightmare!”

Das Gupta is of the firm belief that beyond bottomlines, advertising has a moral and social responsibility in the larger context, but fears that the much celebrated and hyped open market, Sensex boom and consumerism overdrive has reduced the space into one convenient homogenous entity, where the ONE SIZE FITS ALL mode fits brilliantly, with sex as a common winning link all the way.

Skin is In…

Moving back to sex as a selling tool, in recent times, skin-indulgence seems to have scorched the senses, attracting eyeballs galore! Brand Lux commemorating 75 years of stardom, hit the ground running embracing the temper of the times by fusing seduction, indulgence and above all Kareena Kapoor! Showing a visual of the sexy, sultry star covered with chocolate, the text informs the chloroformed viewer that the new Lux (in this new celebration edition range) offers a rare combination of chocolate, cocoa and strawberry to leave the skin deliciously gorgeous. Whether the somewhat unusual concoctions in the soap seduced the viewer to turn consumer is not known, but its impact as a visual turn-on, a feast for the eye-balls, were repeatedly demonstrated in the thobdas of drooling males! Were all of these obscene? Hardly. Weird? Maybe. A gift-wrapped choco- soap selling the fantasy of the Kapoor babe to a hungry generation, comfortable with libido… some clutter-busting concept, huh?

Then there is the new Pepsi CafeChino TVC, where hotties Priyanka Chopra and Kareena Kapoor are modelled as bad, tough cookies. Fitted out in black leather, they are seen bullying the hell out of a guy, followed by mollycoddling him with whopper kisses. Stylishly conceived and executed, the two babes really rock the scene with their presence and their bold n’ beautiful body language is completely in sync with the energy, spirit profile and image of the brand advertised. Is it obscene or vulgar in its up–frontness? Sex, like beauty, must lie in the eyes of the beholder!

In a similar vein, what about the tongue-in-cheek ‘Titan Fast Track’ watch ad where female students of a class let fly an orgasmic range of YESSSIRs after seeing a brand of a watch; or King Khan lording in a bathtub with dazzling heroines (of yesterday and today) attending to him…

Today, with bottom lines attaining top-of-the-line significance and ROI on creatives becoming more scientific and accurate, the use of skin and sex as a cutting-edge, clutter-busting device designed to make a difference overshadows its earlier avatar of a tittilating, eye-popping turn-on created for shock value. In these competitive times advertising is very serious business…and sex is much more than gasp, pant and drool…!