For decades brand marketeers have worked hard to draw a direct link between a product and the possibility of success with the opposite sex (they’ve rarely been brave enough to suggest a connection with same sex relationships outside specialist publications, despite the acknowledged value of the ‘pink’ pound). It’s a proven strategy and certain goods have decided they must be inextricably linked with romantic relationships and are constantly searching for new ways to push that message.
The problem is, this messaging is now so ubiquitous, I’m not convinced it works anymore. When an edgy new perfume illustrates the potent nature of its pong with a clip of naked limbs tastefully entwined, we are just as likely to be thinking ‘Oh, just like all the others’ as we are to see the scent as some undiscovered, pheromone based passion potion. And they all seem to be called ‘Temptation’, ‘Guilty’ or ‘Fumble’ just to hammer the point home. We can’t blame them. The received wisdom tells us sex sells and so sensuality becomes the default brand image for frivolous luxuries. Even when Puff Diddy is involved.
But of course we shouldn’t conflate eroticism with romance. Eva H greeting her breasts with a cheery ‘Hello Boys’ may be funny and sexy, but it’s hardly love’s eternal dream, is it? On the other hand, the legendary Gold Blend couple bared not an iota of naughty flesh throughout the campaign, but most assuredly fell in love over the beans - and we probably fell in love with them a little too.
Unfortunately, in the race to shift units, lust has very much become confused with romance, and no product is too mundane to leap aboard the love train. A campaign for microwave burgers, in a breath-taking exercise in sexism, demonstrated the food’s convenience using a scenario in which a young fellow defrosts his frigid date as rapidly as his hot snack. And a current BT spot shows us a geeky student getting lucky with his new flatmate by taking her to an internet cafe. ‘I didn’t know you were so good at finding a girl’s hotspot’ she says in an unnecessarily fruity way.
To continue that work’s rather clunky sexual innuendo, advertising is all about pushing buttons: finding emotional responses in an audience then triggering them with creative communication. And if there’s one emotion ripe for the triggering, it’s desire. Â Kylie atop a bucking bronco in her scanties on YouTube gave Agent Provocateur a tremendous shove (such beautiful art direction, I watched it dozens of times) and Scarlett Johansen informing us she does all her own stunts, including ‘making love’, is surely attracting a bit of attention to D&G’s (and a rapid re-examination of Ms.Johansen's DVDs too, presumably).
This is all very risqué provocative and arousing, I’m sure. But there’s a part of me longing for the cheesy James Bond fantasies of the Milk Tray man and his unstoppable mission to bring cheap choccies to his lady; or the smitten fools chasing after strangers to gift them flowers after just one nasal hit of Impulse. Because the law of diminishing returns insists that all this heaving flesh will eventually become tiresome and we’ll soon be ready to respond to light-hearted, somewhat chaste romance in our advertising once again. I just wonder whether the advertisers realise that.
Magnus Shaw - writer, blogger and broadcaster