Trained by Jerry. Banned by train bosses.
Advertising creatives usually love to shock. And there’s no better way to prove you’ve shocked people than to have one of your ads banned. That’s why I was a little surprised that one of the younger members of our agency creative team seemed to endorse the censorship of a provocative poster from TV music channel VH1. The ad in question is promoting a show that airs in the UK for the first time on 4th September – Jerry Hall’s Kept (http://www.vh1.co.uk/vh1.co.uk/shows/kept.jhtml) To summarise this televisual trash in a nutshell, the glamorous Texan model and actress spends a few weeks vetting a bunch of hunky toyboys. They are eliminated one by one in classic reality TV style, until only one remains. This lucky fella gets to live Jerry’s millionaire lifestyle for a year and is handed the keys to a Jaguar, along with an American Express Gold Card. I’m still waiting to hear about my application for the show, which must have got lost somewhere in the mail.
In the controversial poster, which was plastered up around London by Viacom but taken down by bosses of London Underground, Jerry is seen at the bottom of a spiral staircase, presiding over a number of scantily-clad, leashed men who are down on all fours. The copy says simply: Twelve get trained. Only one gets kept. Jerry Hall’s Kept. Starts this Sunday at 6pm.
At a pure advertising level, this ad does exactly what it should. It catches your attention. It tells you everything you need to know about the product. If you’re advertising a TV show, you give the name of the programme and say when it’s on as quickly as you can. But you add just a touch of panache and style. Great examples include the headline “Parole Denied” alongside a picture of the cast of Bad Girls announcing a new season on ITV1. Or a picture of Kiefer Sutherland as Federal Agent Jack Bauer in 24 with the line “If you don’t have Sky One, you don’t get Jack.”
So where has VH1 gone wrong? Our young copywriter agreed with the tube chiefs that the poster was treating the pictured men as sexual objects. Presumably, this is felt to be demeaning. Her argument was that if the sex roles were reversed and it were women crawling around the floor, the poster would obviously be unacceptable. I wholeheartedly agree. But the poster doesn’t feature women. It features men. Men, I believe, who should be big and testosterone-filled enough to take this tongue-in-cheek poster execution in their stride. Even when they’re on all fours.
We live in a world where women often feel threatened by physical and sexual violence, earn less than men and struggle to make it into the top echelons of business and politics. In this context, there is a big difference between presenting men as subservient slaves and presenting women in the same light. The first is a joke. The second, for far too many women, is a rather too close to reality. Maybe I should never have studied sociology at university, but I find myself in the weird position of championing the feminist cause to a younger female colleague. Perhaps it’s one stage better than the position I’d be in if I were one of Jerry’s kept men.
© Phil Woodford, 2005. All rights reserved.
Phil Woodford is an advertising creative director and lecturer. www.philwoodford.com