Cleverly insouciant or just eye-rollingly bad?

Posted February 15, 2013

I’m all for a good double-entendre, but…

playtex fresh and sexy beaver ad

 

Generally speaking, it takes a lot to get me riled up about ‘sexism’ in advertising, and I’m not easily offended by references to sex:  I had no problems, for example, with that Chapstick ad that got everyone so worked up, and my big problem with those ‘Hail to the V’ ads was that they seemed kind of racist.  (I did draw the line at those rape-referencing Belvedere ads, but they were pretty egregious.)

However. 

I have to say I’m not loving these print ads for these Playtex Fresh + Sexy Wipes.  There are 4 in all:  2 directed at women (peaches and beavers) and two directed at men (knobs and peckers).

Playtex Fresh and Sexy print ads

Unlike Summer’s Eve and other brands who refer to ‘intimate care’ and ‘freshness’, Playtex Fresh + Sexy wipes are euphemism-free:  Their website tells you, in large friendly letters, that they’re designed to be used before and after sex.  Okay, fine, I guess…it sort of gets me thinking about a Victorian-era prostitute having a quick “whore’s bath” between clients, eking out her days in a Dickensian garret only to die of syphillis before the age of 25, leaving a couple of tragic starving orphans in her wake – but I realize I’m pretty much alone in that little flight of fancy.   And anyway, sometimes I get sick and tired of euphemisms in advertising.  I was well into my teens before I realized that ‘constipation’ referred to bowel movements: All the Correctol laxative ads featured water droplets, so I thought it was for people who couldn’t urinate!

No, I think what’s bothering me about these ads is that it feels like we’ve now crossed the final frontier of stuff to get needlessly insecure about. We’re already paranoid that we won’t attract sexual partners due to our dandruff, our flyaway hair, our incipient wrinkles, our untanned and jiggly bodies, our bad breath and yellowing teeth, our unmanicured nails and our rough, dry elbow skin.  Now, having passed all those tests and successfully lured someone home with us, we have to worry that everything will fall apart once they get a whiff of our genitalia.  And it’s the quantity issue that’s particularly galling:  These wipes aren’t going to give us better sex, just more of it.

So my issue here isn’t actually with sexism (the ads are good at making both sexes feel bad about themselves), or even with the use of words like ‘pecker’ or ‘beaver’.  No, I think the real problem is that these ads seem to imply that words like ‘pecker’ and ‘beaver’ automatically render them amusing and ‘edgy’, when in fact they just make the reader feel kind of depressed about how everyone else seems to be hooking up all the time while they haven’t had a sleepover date in months.  

I’m well aware that I’m not the target here.  No doubt the target market is urban singles, 18-34, whereas I’m a 40-something married person who happens to be 8.5 months pregnant as I write this.  And when you’re launching a new product, a little shock value (“OMG, they used ‘beaver’ in an ad!”) is a good way to get some quick brand awareness. But I can’t help thinking that if you’re going to position your product as a sex aid, maybe you’d do better to make it just a little more aspirational.