Bell Sympatico has been circulating an ad for their new “Parent Control” service that says “You’ll do anything to protect your kids from inappropriate content. So will we.” The accompanying picture is of anatomy book open to a page titled “The Female Body.” The breasts and pubic region have been cut out.
Many people (1, 2, 3, etc.) are offended by this ad, and rightly so. There are at least two levels of subtext at work. First; the female body is naughty and inappropriate. Even worse; knowledge of the female body is inappropriate.
Apparently, a few people are not offended by the ad, claiming that it is just a humourous take on the idea of over-protecting your children. I suspect that 90% of them work for Sympatico’s marketing department or Grip, the Toronto advertising company behind the ad. They say it is part of a wider campaign — that the related television ads put it “in context.” News flash: not everybody watches a lot of television!
I won’t even get into the feminist side of the discussion as that, to me, is obvious and does not even need to be discussed. (More on blork and feminism here…) But I would like to discuss it from a media point-of-view.
Humour? In order to be humourous in a marketing campaign, there needs to be slapstick, or irony, or some other obvious *whack!* There’s no *whack!* here. Outside of “the context” of the TV ads, there is no reference to anything that shows this kind of over-protection as being bad, or weird, or in any way itself inappropriate. As such, the humour in the print ad is not obvious, so it essentially doesn’t exist. Which leaves only one conclusion — they appear to endorse the ideas that the female body is naughty and inappropriate and knowledge of the female body is inappropriate.
Of course that’s not what they meant, but the world is full of impressionable people, many of whom buy into those ideas without Sympatico even pushing it at them. They’re just not the kind of ideas one throws around casually unless you are satirizing or mocking them — which Sympatico is clearly not doing. As such, an ad like this will offend many people.
What offends me as a marketing professional is that no one at Sympatico or Grip had the imagination or foresight to realize the implications of this image and how those implications would overshadow any small scraps of humour that might have been found in the original concept. I suppose that’s what happens when bone-headed designers meet stuffed-shirt executives.
You can see the television ad on InfoPresse.com, here. You can also see the French-language ad (by Cossette), which is completely different — and is actually funny, aside from the habitant angle, which is getting old. (Ignore the movie that comes up when the InfoPresse page first loads — click on “Message Canadien” for the English ad and “Message québécois” for the French one.)