Commentary

You Can't Have It Both Ways, It Seems

I'm going beyond the press release and into advertising territory in this column, after a recent article in The New York Times' "On Advertising" column grabbed my attention. It discussed the trials and tribulations of a new female "enhancement" product that is having a hard time getting airplay. Pun very much intended.

Most readers of that article would surmise that its purpose was to highlight the disparity between what is acceptable in advertising -- or not -- when it comes to "our" sexuality, as well as the double standards that exist within the advertising today world today. To me, the article also raises another red flag: the very aggressive and divisive political atmosphere that has engulfed our country when it comes to women's choices and the freedom and control that we have over our bodies. And let's not forget the media cohorts, either. However, as this is not the appropriate place to discuss political issues, I won't. So let's go back to advertising.

Advertise like it's 1959

When it comes to today's media market (or did I mean to say meat market), one could argue that society has progressed a great deal since the early days of television and print advertising, à la "Mad Men." More and more, we have been exposed to TV shows, commercials and ads that feature interracial families, homosexual couples (albeit male, predominately), and an altogether a more laid-back attitude when it comes to discussing and displaying things of a sexual nature. This, however, is not the case when it comes to female sexuality -- which seems to be as taboo as ever if we take the boycott of this female product as an indicator.

Zestra Essential Arousal Oils, a product designed to enhance the female sexual experience, is struggling to find networks or publications that will run its ads.

I have to say that Zestra's commercial is really rather lame, especially compared with ads for same category products like KY gel and Trojan condoms. It's a number of middle-aged women talking about their diminishing sex drive due to getting older and having children. Hello out there -- there is nothing remotely "inappropriate" about either, and I can very confidently make this statement as a mother of two almost grown-up children, and as a woman approaching the company's target customer's age.

Right now, Zestra is having a tough time getting approval to air its ads. The company has had its ad pulled from prime time on most major networks -- the very same networks and stations that run male enhancement ads for Viagra and Cialis ad nauseum. Even Facebook pulled the ads after just a couple of weeks.

In the end, Zestra has had to settle for the graveyard shift -- after midnight -- when its target audience is fast asleep, dealing perhaps with hot flashes and worries about their university-bound children and the associated financial obligations. And I can tell you, that is definitely not sexy, on air or in real life.

So why this double standard? Why is it okay to publicize men's sexual needs, but not women's?

Looks like we can't have it both ways

What this situation makes apparent is that while we have become more accepting of certain social issues -- we have no problem watching "The Situation" get his rocks off with several females at a time -- there is still an enormous double standard in acknowledging the comfort level of women's sexuality, in any medium. While we seem to be perfectly fine with ads showing women as sex objects (Heidi Montag, Kim Kardashian, et al.), it suddenly becomes unacceptable once real women start discussing their real sexual needs and desires.

Since when did American media become uncomfortable with recognizing the sexual needs of women equally? Are we less progressive than the Europeans, or even the British -- supposedly prudish -- who quite openly discuss sexual topics like S&M and sex toys in their daily papers?

Watch the ad and tell me what you think. Is it so racy for prime time compared with its male counterparts? Are the networks right to ban an ad like this? And what message are they sending to American women?

Recommend (3)
7 comments about "You Can't Have It Both Ways, It Seems ".
  1. Michael Massey from Your Ad Here , September 29, 2010 at 5:38 a.m.

    I've seen the ads on several cable nets during daytime. While I don't find them 'racy', I have to agree with you that the creative is lame in comparison to the male sexual enhancement products.

    Clearly, I am not the target audience, but the first time I saw it I felt (1) embarrassed and (2) thought it was an SNL spoof.

    Zestra needs to go back to the creative drawing board with this product if they want to make any impact in the market.

  2. Steve Ellwanger from Press Counsel Group , September 29, 2010 at 9:22 a.m.

    Vanessa raises good, common sense points. I'm a bit puzzled, though, about the so-called racy aspect of ads for products like Cialis. I've never seen such lame commercials, particularly the one with a loving couple in separate bathtubs...outdoors. Isn't that what people do when they don't have Cialis?

  3. Nan Merrill from Merrill and Associates , September 29, 2010 at 9:30 a.m.

    Happily, women can now create their own vibration in the sexual zeitgeist by ignoring media where all things male dominate; now we can focus our attention on self-satisfying activity on the internet.

  4. Philip O'neill from Philip O'Neill Freelance , September 29, 2010 at 3:55 p.m.

    I'm inclined to agree with you, Vanessa. It falls into the category of bald iniquity, like an insurance plan that covers ED treatment, but not birth control. As a nation, we still operate with some old-fashioned, prudish ideas.

  5. Nina Lentini from MediaPost Communications , September 29, 2010 at 6:48 p.m.

    Michael makes a good point. Imagine pushing the envelope to the point where women are exulting in their newfound sexual satisfaction! Might make people take notice!

  6. Jerry Foster from Energraphics , September 30, 2010 at 3:30 a.m.

    I agree with Vanessa that the product category shouldn't be banned as long as ED product ads are aired.

    But I think ED product manufacturers themselves should ditch those foolish American ED ads, not for being "immoral" but for being way too politically correct, to the point of telling older American men whom they're supposed to be sleeping with.

    American ED ads always, without exception, feature a female partner who isn't remotely sexually attractive who is supposed to represent someone the man has been with for 30 years or more. That's a Norman Rockwell painting that might promote a man to go out and buy flowers, but not an ED product. Such advertising, if viewed by intelligent, non-pc baby boomer males, tends to argue against men using a drug to get them excited and more in favor of finding a more attractive partner. I bet many older men see these ads and head straight to the local strip club. I've seen guys write on blogs that those ED ads effectively advertise to young men not to get married.

    American advertisers seem to be deliberately sending the wrong and/or ineffective messages. All they are really saying to men is "Hey buddy, it doesn't seem like you're attracted to your wife anymore."

    In Europe, ED advertisers know full-well that what men really worry about with ED is not whether they can rise to the occasion with Helen Thomas, but whether they would fail if a really beautiful new woman gave them an opportunity to perform. It would be terrifying for a guy to pay for a lap-dance from a 19 year old and watch as nothing happens.

    A European or South American ED ad would, similar to the "No Play for Mr. Gray" ads, show a middle aged businessman with gray hair being ignored by all the young beautiful businesswomen in his environment. He then learns about the pill and suddenly all the women are smiling at him. This may be stupid but not as stupid as an American ad telling men they need drugs to help them do what they obviously don't want to do anymore anyway.

    So while Vanessa is correct to point out that the American media has been way too prudish, the problem also lies in the unrealistic advertising schemes of the manufacturers themselves and the overall message chafes as much on non-brain-washed men as on non-brain-washed women.

    *by the way, in Europe ads are OK with the idea of bosses sleeping with personal assistants, etc and its a common theme. A really popular ad running now features a young woman late for a conference room meeting because she'd been eating "The Boss" cheese. She explains to her irate coworkers "I was with the Boss"...and everyone looks at her with more respect as she tussles her hair.

  7. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , October 6, 2010 at 10:51 a.m.

    The pain and suffering these products create through on "public air waves" so to speak - no sense of intention - are a great deal more than the pleasure they advertise. EX: You now have to share your retirement savings with the young chippie and her kid? Personal responsibility has gone the way of privacy.