I’m sure most of you have already feasted your eyes on the orgy of faux bit-squeezing borderline soft porn that makes up the most recent Club Orange advertising effort. If you haven’t, do go right ahead and feast/hide your eyes right here. (I’m not really too fussed about adding the video to my blog – I think I’d feel a bit dirty. Please make sure to clean the screen afterwards….and you can take that any way you like.)
Yes, I know, I know. By talking about it, I’m contributing to the debate, generating buzz, giving them what they want, all that jazz. The only thing worse than being talked about, etc etc. While my profession involves lots of work based around advertising, I tend not to get on my soapbox about creatives, instead preferring to regard them as a necessary evil. The fact that the Club ad has made me feel strongly enough to put pen to paper surprises me, but I’m fascinated by the reaction it’s garnering across all the various spectrums, particularly in social media. The ad has “gone viral” it seems, which is what most savvy marketers apparently aspire to these days. But is it necessarily a good thing?
I have a number of issues with the Club Orange ad debate. I don’t really buy the “Diet Coke break” revenge argument that has cropped up so many times in its defence. Diet Coke ads are equally shit, equally lazy and equally sexist. I know Matthew McConaughy was happy to get his pecs out for the Dolce & Gabbana cause. I also recall another aftershave advert – the brand name escapes me – involving a naked man, and a leather couch (the meeting of which upset me greatly, I might add. Bum sweat on the sofa? No thanks.) We’ve all seen countless ads portraying men AND women purely as sexual objects. Sex sells, or so they say… but this is different.
Firstly, it’s the sheer lack of subtlety that gets me. It’s really not very … classy. Granted, this argument won’t stand up to much scrutiny in a reasoned debate about sexual objectification, but my instant reaction upon seeing this ad was to think, how well, …..cheap … it looks. It’s the advertising equivalent of Katie Price, isn’t it? All boobs, faux sex “appeal”, and very little substance. The ad sells using sex, in its lowest form, aimed at the lowest common denominator in the cheapest, most tabloid-esque manner possible – the type of manner that would make a red-light district window display look positively classy. All brawn, and no brains, and titillation (no pun intended) without fulfilment. Of course, procuring yourself some Club Orange may just provide alternative fulfilment… depends on what you’re into, I guess. On another level, this ad just irritates me no end – it has a “nails on a background” vibe about it and that contrived accent is already starting to grate, before it even hits the screen.
More importantly, however, I’m almost annoyed with the “actresses” featured, and their deliberate, unashamed provocativeness. I feel betrayed by them. Every day, we read about the ‘glass ceiling’ and witness first-hand the struggles women face in the workplace and on the world stage simply in order to be taken seriously and to progress in their chosen careers. Never mind that they shouldn’t have to fight harder, the fact is a lot of them do, and it is strong, powerful, intelligent women that I would prefer to be seen as representative of our gender – and of me. Then, you look at this ad, and read the (mostly male-generated) comments on YouTube, dissecting as they are the finer points of an ad featuring a row of boobs in tiny bra tops (their faces are barely shown, of course) designed to sell a soft drink, and you start to despair. Yeah, there’s a freedom of choice argument – women are free to do as they will with your bodies (mostly) and all that. But I can’t help thinking that women everywhere striving for true equality are being let down by the “actresses” in ads like these.
I’m conscious the opinions above might imply that I think all men are suckers for this low form of wit. I know the opposite to be true. What’s struck me about this palaver over the past few days is the amount of men I have observed rolling their virtual eyes at this and dismissing – nay, slating – the ad both for its lack of intelligence and its dearth of originality. The advert is clearly targeted towards young men, and I’ve noticed quite a few such men taking offence with the notion that advertising agencies still believe they are brain-dead enough to fall for such base concepts. Men object just as much as women to the fact that teenage boys and young men are being targeted using an ad that blatantly objectivises women, and that’s heartening, as is the level of condemnation for the ad by men on behalf of women. I think it’s born out of a realisation that objectivising and sexualising women to the extent where we’re almost watching soft porn before the watershed is wrong and unhealthy, particularly because in our media-saturated world it plays a massive part in skewing young people’s perceptions of each other’s gender at an impressionable age. All of this contributes to a greater malaise in society – and ultimately, on a more serious level, contributes in no small way to a culture where even violence against women, particularly sexual violence, is not regarded or treated with the seriousness it should be. I am in no way exaggerating when I say this. It all adds up.
On another note, having scanned through a number of the reactions on the internet over the past few days, I get the sense that most women actually don’t feel they can voice their annoyance with this ad, without being labelled. Even the stronger, more prolific, outspoken women I’m aware of in the spheres of media and journalism, seem to feel they need to qualify their objections with an “I’m no prude but…” or “You might think I’m being old-fashioned and conservative but…” and this is what really makes me sad. As women, the fact that we still appear to perceive ourselves in such a way that we don’t feel comfortable enough to voice our objections without prefacing them with a qualifier, says a lot about how we feel we are perceived – and at the risk of being controversial here – specifically by men, for articulating these concerns. I won’t lose any sleep over this ad, but on a moral and ethical level I’m not happy about the level to which sex is used – across any industry – to reduce people to brainless, objectified, sexualised objects. I’m less happy about the fact that it appears to work, to an extent, but I’m most unhappy that I as a women should feel I need to justify my objection to it, for fear of being labelled a frigid old feminist. And yes, feminism is still, in this day and age, seen by many as a dirty word with negative connotations. Hysteria, even. There’s a lot of progress to be made yet.
Finally, I’d also like to note that this ad irritated me purely because I think it’s rubbish. It’s lazy, it’s boring, it’s clichéd and it’s been done to death already. Hunky Dorys got there before Club, Diet Coke before them, and if this ad was designed as a parody, as has been suggested, then it’s an abject failure. I can’t help but feel the agency responsible might have done a pretty great Irish brand a considerable disservice. In what I’m guessing is an effort to differentiate it from its biggest competitor Fanta, they have misfired, and by resorting to such a cliché-ridden, one-dimensional campaign, lacking in any subtle nuances or discernable humour, I wonder if they will cheapen the brand irreparably, and alienate a good proportion of their non-regular buyers.
I’ve no problem with a brand tailoring advertising in order to target a specific market, and indeed redefining their target market – it happens all the time, to good effect and is clever marketing – just look at Special K and Yorkie respectively for examples. But for a brand which had such great potential to shine in a much broader territory, and from a uniquely Irish position, at that – I can’t help wondering whether the agency, and Club themselves have shot themselves in the foot. It’s easy to drive brand equity down, but very, very difficult to reverse the damage.
Time will tell. But I know what I won’t be buying for a sugar rush from now on.