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Column: Yes, the Club Orange ads are offensive. But mainly they’re just lame.

The ‘bits’ campaign insults women and patronises men – but its worst crime is a tedious lack of imagination, writes Jean Sutton. Why do the media keep playing their game?

Jean Sutton

I KNOW OF at least one women’s advocacy group that instructs its members to decline calls from a certain reactionary newspaper. It’s easy to imagine why: Don’t give them the chance to cast you as the harridan. Don’t provide the bottom half of the Internet with an excuse to call you what they wouldn’t to your face.

When I was in primary school I was a dreadful chatterbox who on every possible occasion answered the teacher back. No other child was allowed sit beside me because of it. One morning Mrs Hayes, my perceived adversary, walked into class to find me with my desk dragged over to the ‘bold corner’, my small wooden chair turned toward the wall.
“Jean, what are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m in the bold corner because you’re going to put me here anyway.” So she made me sit beside the boy who without fail wet himself every day. I was aged six or so, a brat newly versed in the life philosophy of damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t.

This week, Britvic Ireland found itself in the regulatory bold corner after the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland (ASAI) ruled against their recent widespread bits-centric campaign for Club Orange. The ASAI held that Britvic “had used sexual innuendo merely to attract attention”, that there was “no tangible link between a pair of women’s breasts and the brand Club Orange”, and thus they had breached elements of the 2006 ASAI Code.

This Club Orange bits controversy harks back to the Hunky Dory tits campaign of last year. Both campaigns were devised by the Chemistry advertising agency. Largo Foods, the manufacturers of Hunky Dory, were reprimanded by the ASAI for their initial advertisements depicting semi-naked girls playing rugby – images from which the IRFU formally distanced themselves.

Marketers’ game

However, Largo are technically beyond the purview of the Authority as they refuse to be members of that organisation, and were thus free to launch another similar feminist-baiting campaign this year, only this time themed around the national sport of gaelic football. Their billboards now asked, demanding a response, “Still staring?”

The people who run these ads want to push feminists into a corner. I once heard Susan McKay, former chief executive of the National Women’s Council, remark that the NWCI generally received more phone calls the week Michael O’Leary decided to release his calendar of semi-naked workers than at any other part of the year. The media seem happy to play the game of the marketers and feed the whole irrelevant cycle with ammunition that plays up the humourless feminist trope. It perpetuates a banal charade that is insulting to women and condescending to men. It is fifty-year-old-virgin-in-the-country-pub humour, the deliberate goading of women’s interest groups and a lack of imagination all wrapped up into one bus shelter poster.

The advertising agency behind both campaigns is capable of more. Last year Chemistry composed a thought-provoking print campaign for progressive in-depth reports by the Examiner. They used familiar yet incredibly stark imagery to address pertinent national issues such as rural isolation and prostitution.

Tongue-in-cheek

The most arresting ad in the series depicted a teenage boy sitting in an Irish classroom surrounded by blow-up sex dolls in uniforms as opposed to human classmates. He stares into the camera, his eyes lost and scared. This strong image juxtaposes the familiar with the discomfiting, inviting prospective readers to think about the question “How is porn affecting today’s teens?” Disappointingly, Chemistry immediately loses such consciousness-raising kudos with one of their print endeavours for Britvic. Two perfectly spherical oranges, the tagline: The Best Bits in the World.

Britvic’s response to the ASAI claimed that the bits campaign “was part of a broader marketing campaign to make Club more appealing to its core target audience, primarily 18-30 year old males, and it was intentionally tongue in cheek and humorous.” If you think Largo Foods, Britvic and their ilk think little of women, you can be guaranteed they think even less of men.

This response reminded me of Seth Stevenson of Slate’s account of the decline of the award-winning American agency Crispin Porter & Bogusky. Crispin deliberately courted controversy in their major campaigns for Miller, Volkswagen and Burger King, seeking out what our mothers derisively term ‘notice’ with invariably misogynist advertisements for cars, beer, even chicken. Crispin employed a ‘demographic tunnel vision’ purely focusing on advertising toward a young male audience. For a while they were a success, branders who excited their clients and got people talking. However this ‘bro’ mentality backfired on Crispen. Constantly striving for shock value actually had a negative effect on Burger King’s sales and damaged their position in the US market.

In an Irish context Largo Foods said they saw a 17 per cent jump in their sales in Northern Ireland in light of their Hunky Dory campaign. Britvic may have scored YouTube viewing figures, and they may well continue to do so as the ASAI ruling was only in relation to outdoor print advertising. But as regards to sex selling? Well, Britvic Ireland reported a decline of 11.1 per cent in revenue this summer, so we’ll have to see.

Jean Sutton is co-editor of Siren, a forthcoming online publication which focuses on gender issues, and a recent law graduate.

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