Thursday, November 05, 2009

Pushing The Envelope

How “Too Far” Just Doesn’t Exist In Advertising

As you flip through a magazine, drive down the freeway, or walk through Toronto’s downtown streets, you are surrounded by advertisements. When the average North American is exposed to at least 500 commercial messages per day, it promotes several questions such as; what is considered influential, and what is considered excessive. Advertising can be defined as the act of describing or drawing attention to a product, service or event in a public medium in order to promote sales or attendance. The lingering question asks: what kind of attention are advertisers seeking? When does provocative become an understatement, or when is sexy too sexy?
Several retailers such as Sisely, Calvin Klein, American Apparel and many others firmly believe in the “sex sells” approach, and the “any publicity is good publicity” view when it comes to their abundance of racy ads. These businesses are well versed in the art of creating buzz, which is the main goal in controversial advertising. What better topic is there than sex? It’s sure to cause a clamor. Since sex is perceived as being personal, it’s a given that creating an emotional connection is crucial to effective marketing campaigns. The laws of nature play at the core of profitable fashion marketing. Sex is a universally understood concept, which cuts through the clutter and immediately grabs the viewer’s attention. When you notice a Calvin Klein ad, where the models are oiled up, scantily clad, and pressed up against each other, regardless if you are offended or excited by the idea, you’ve still given it a second thought: which is the sole purpose of companies pushing the limit. A shock value approach keeps a company designers’ name active in your memory long past the initial viewing of the advertisement.
A prime example of shock advertising would be the creator of the American Apparel brand, Dov Charney. Charney is directly involved in his company’s branding and advertising, with his print campaigns being perhaps one of the most talked about in the garment industry. The company is known for it’s simple and provocative ads featuring young teenage models (who are usually employees) in sexually provoking poses. American Apparel ads push the envelope of creativity, decency, and the standards of advertising today. American Apparel’s racy ads, as well as other company’s ads often pose the question of are these ads targeted at men or women? Since sex is a universally understood language, it can effectively be sold to both genders. Charney, and others grasp the full meaning of the notion that any publicity is good publicity, and they don’t fall short of impressing. American Apparel was forced to pay 5 million to Woody Allen after the director’s image was reproduced in a poster campaign without permission. In moments such as these, the free publicity and widespread media coverage typically far outweigh the monetary damages brought forth by lawsuits. In another instance, an American Apparel ad was banned (and it surely wasn’t their first) for featuring a partially dressed model who appeared to be under 16. The same situation occurred in a 1995 campaign for Calvin Klein when his images of pubescent models in provocative poses caused major controversy and debate when they crossed the line between fashion and pornography. Again, the controversy of these ads only creates a buzz, keeping the audience fixated, and taking a company’s recognition from a 5 to a 10.
Every now and again, now being more common in today’s grand scheme of advertising, someone causes a stir. Controversial advertising touches upon just about every human emotion at some point or another, which is why things are only getting more heated. Next time an ad turns your head, take a moment to think if the company took a step (or two or three) over the line, and ask yourself if it was too far. If the unanimous answer is “yes”, the advertiser has done their job. Sex sells; we know it and fashion conglomerates know it. The only question left is when is the envelope going to burst.


nancy g., said...

great topic, this issue is a major concern today. i like your approach on it.

Morgan Ratcliffe said...

Interesting read! You brought up some great points on the topic.