A pert mannequin, an aroused public
British panel finds in favor of a suggestive ad
November 2, 2005
Was it a case of a nipple too pert? Perhaps then a mannequin improperly aroused? Apparently neither.
And to the question is it okay to use sex, that old ruse, to make your dull product seem less dull, the answer is, well, yes, go for it.
In Britain, a special government body, the Advertising Standards Authority, weighs in on matters of taste and offensiveness when it comes to ads, much as in the U.S. the Federal Communications Commission rules on whether TV and radio ads fail to meet its standards of decency. It’s an unpleasant task on either side of the pond, often leading to decisions that while consistent with the body’s often arcane standards come across as ridiculous when trotted out in public.
The latest such ruling came following hundreds of complaints about an ad that showed a female mannequin with erect nipples being driven about in a car.
The ad, for Mazda, received 425 complaints, making it the seventh-most complained about TV commercial, according to the ASA. It aired on TV and in cinemas before the main feature.
The ad shows a man loading a number of female shop dummies wearing lingerie into the back of a car. The camera focuses on the smooth breasts of one of the mannequins. The viewers then see the man driving around the city, while in the back viewers see the mannequin’s face and its hand hitching up its negligee to expose the top of its stockings. As the camera closes in on the mannequin, its eyes–should we say her eyes–glaze over.
The idea here, which viewers were expected to catch onto quite quickly, is that riding in the Mazda is so stimulating as to be to sexually arousing even for a store mannequin, making it just a dandy car.
But back to our story. Then the man parks outside a lingerie store and lifts the dummy out of the car. The driver gives a bemused look when he sees that the mannequin’s nipples are now erect. The commercial cuts to the mannequin’s face and the sound of a woman giggling. A voice over says: The all new Mazda 5. Surprisingly stimulating.
Certainly, the ad did stimulate some concerns among viewers. The ASA received complaints that the ad was demeaning to women, offensive due to the reference to sexual arousal, and that it was shown at inappropriate times.
Not so, decided ASA.
We acknowledged that any reference to sexual arousal in ads could cause offence to some viewers,” it ruled. “However, we considered that the humour in the ad was based on mildly sexual material and not excessively explicit.
When looking at complaints about the ad being demeaning to women, the ASA decided that the intention was not to offend but to humorously present the absurd notion that an inanimate object could be turned on.
The ASA also ruled that the ad was shown at appropriate times, airing only after 7:30 p.m. on TV and before movies rated PG or higher. It felt the content was in line with what was shown on TV at that hour. As for the cinema airings, the ASA consulted the Cinema Advertising Association, which said that it was in line with the guidelines for PG movies — the innuendo was subtle and therefore unlikely to be understood by children.
JWT, the agency that created the commercial, told the ASA that the idea behind the commercial was to put some excitement into the image of a car that some people would have thought of as uninspiring. JWT told the ASA that the agency’s research showed that the UK consumer group reacted positively to the ad and its adult theme.
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