Tuesday, January 31, 2006

You Know It When You Hear It

There's been a lot of talk about obscenity and media lately, magnified by Howard Stern's move to satellite radio. We'll get to Howard soon enough, but before that I want to recount a radio spot I heard during the holiday season last year. It went something like this:

(sultry female voice discussing the history of mistletoe and people using it to get a kiss)
“…and if twigs and branches can get you a kiss, just imagine
what a luxurious new Jaguar can get you…”

There’s another one in the campaign that is more detailed, progressing from getting a “thank you” for flowers, to a hug for cashmere, to a “steamy kiss” for diamonds and then the big Jaguar payoff. Just so we’re all on the same page: the implicit message is that if you buy your woman a Jaguar, you’re going to get lucky.

Now in this age of FCC behavioral retrenchment regarding indecency and obscenity, we note none of George Carlin’s favorite words, and no lengthy repetition, but what about that gray zone where “material panders, titillates or is used for shock value?”

The cynics in the audience might argue that the above phrase defines advertising. Advertising folks reading this might call that copy “edgy” – and it is. It bumps up against the edge of something, but what exactly? We’re all grownups reading this (at least age-wise), so what’s the big deal?

First, let’s suppose that my two daughters, aged 12 and 16, were riding with me in the car when this spot aired. My 12-year-old might ask: “Daddy, what would a new Jaguar get you?” – a reasonable question that shows the benefits of good production in getting a listener to pay attention to the copy. And I would sputter and mumble something like: “Well, sweetie, maybe an even bigger kiss and a hug to go with it”, and while I was saying that my 16-year old would be making gagging noises and thinking about a steamy scene involving a new Jaguar and the cast of The OC. And both of them would think about the expectation of a woman’s sexual favors in return for a shiny new car.

I’ve got a problem with that, and I’m a guy. Can you imagine how a mature woman might feel listening to this ad? She might chuckle to be polite, but bet that deep down she’s offended in a most basic way at the suggestion that her virtue can be had for the price of some expensive metal (or gemstones, or any other product that’s pitched like this).

Moreover (from the Radio Refugee's point of view), the station airing these ads is committing audience-cide. Jaguar’s agency thought this copy was clever, and sold their client, who in turn paid a radio station to run the ad. Now here’s the old codger talking: what ever happened to the idea of spot approval? The station I heard this on is a highly-rated AC outlet that prides itself on its strong numbers with upscale women. Think about that for a minute: the advertiser is running spots on this station that are almost sure to alienate the very audience the station works hard every day to attract.

I don’t know about you, but to me, that’s obscene.

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