Aggression vs. assertion: a sex ad story
The history of advertising has been a hot and intense one right from the start, a history which has led us all to this moment in time, when every minute, we are bombarded by millions of colourful images and loud noises, all vying for our attention. As a result, it is no wonder that the human body has developed a type of defense mechanism, which allows it to cope with this assault: the art of shutting out. We subconsciously make associations – similar sounds and images must mean the same old ads we see everywhere, everyday, so we don’t need to see them again, do we?
And the result? Ads are becoming increasingly bold, with old values being replaced by new ones, to the point where the only “moral” limits are those of the designers’ imagination. The idea of using creative, out-of-the-box advertising techniques to appeal to an ever more apathetic audience seems completely reasonable. But is there a line separating original from offensive, or, if you will, assertive from aggressive, in a world where non-assertion is seen as automatic failure?
Let’s look at a sensitive subject: sex and human sexuality. After years of being a recurring theme in a multitude of advertising campaigns, you would believe that by now it has become impossible to avoid being aggressive and still make your campaign stand out from the crowd. Apparently Durex, one of the world’s largest condom manufacturers was of the same opinion: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/articles/295804/20120209/durex-dark-humour-banned-superbowl-ad.htm. Sadly for the company, the ad got banned from the 2012 Superbowl, after being deemed too offensive. Thus, the aggressive approach, which fails to consider the viewers’ points of view and bets it all on gaining their attention, can end up being shut out from the start.
So is there an assertive way of promoting sexual elements? Well, where there’s a will, there’s a way. I for one think that Stonewall’s recent campaign, “Some people are gay, get over it”, ticks all the boxes: http://www.stonewall.org.uk/at_school/education_for_all/quick_links/education_resources/4007.asp. While both ads clearly express their points, Stonewall’s does so in a far less offensive manner: it does not attack the viewers’ senses or morality, it merely makes a statement. To my mind, that is what assertion is all about: standing up for yourself, without backing other against the wall. And why shouldn’t the same rules apply to advertising?