Volume 93, Issue 78

Thursday, February 17, 2000


Boobs get the boot in ad campaign

Hey, Cosmo girl, you've been Busteed

Boobs get the boot in ad campaign

By Katy de Vries
Gazette Writer

It is difficult to know where a line in advertising should be drawn, as it teeters between the need to be effective without being offensive. Should companies shock viewers with sensationalized ads which are sure to get noticed, or conform to public standards and risk losing the message in an abundance of advertisements?

The Breast Cancer Fund in San Francisco, California, faced this very dilemma last month, with their "Obsessed With Breasts" campaign. A number of advertisements were designed to promote awareness for breast cancer, which depicted beautiful female models who mimicked advertisements in the Victoria's Secret catalogue, Cosmopolitan magazine and Calvin Klein's "Obsession" campaign, while revealing super-imposed mastectomy scars.

Merijane Block, program director for the non-profit, San Francisco Breast Cancer Fund, said the purpose of the campaign was to create awareness of the disease and to get people talking.

"We chose this style for portraying our powerful images because it characterizes the typical western female cultural icon," she explained. Block said society generally believed media outlets offer an image of the ideal look. This implied that if a woman underwent a mastectomy in her fight against breast cancer, she could no longer be beautiful and her body should be hidden, she said. The campaign was designed to change this attitude.

The advertisements appeared in some U.S. city bus shelters, however they were not permitted in San Francisco and were removed in Santa Clara, California and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Lew Lillian, head of Outdoor Systems Advertising in San Fransisco, said the illuminated four by six foot ads were inappropriate to display on the street, as they were too explosive and provocative.

He added they were worried about children seeing these advertisements and being frightened. He also said the campaign could have a more negative effect on women, by deterring them from taking necessary precautions against the disease, such as regular mammograms, for fear they would become like the women in the posters.

Lillian added the campaign accomplished its goals – it became an internationally known story and was given a lot of press coverage, which was good for the breast cancer cause. However, he added they would be much more effective in a magazine.

Block agreed the Breast Cancer Fund was pleased the ads garnered so much attention to their cause. She added even though the ads were being removed, the public's emotional response suggested they were effective.

The fund received a great deal of feedback about their campaign and Block concluded the overall effects of the ads were definitely positive.

Jeff Hopkins, a cultural geographer and advertising instructor with Western's geography department, said advertising is generally entertaining and when a provocative ad depicts reality interrupting fantasy, people almost always find it disturbing.

Hopkins added reality can shatter the myth of beauty, often seen on magazine covers and billboard advertisements. "The public's reaction to the campaign is noteworthy because with this campaign they were attempting to detract from the typical beauty of the female image. In most other cases, the advertisers attempt to enhance the beauty and create a very false image with air brushing and digital improvements.

"This campaign interrupts the female beauty by imposing a cruel and potentially deadly dose of reality upon it and this scares people. The female body is such a commodified image and we don't get upset with the everyday fantasy, or the norm, but reality bothers us and this naive thinking is scary," he added.

Janet Fergeson, the national director of development and public relations with the Breast Cancer Society of Canada, said she wasn't comfortable with the campaign, as it still depicted the "beautiful woman" image which could insult those with the disease. "It does perhaps create an awareness, but [it] is still misrepresenting women," she added.

Gail Burford, assistant to the publisher of Flare magazine, said she considered Flare to be at the forefront of the fashion industry and thought the magazine did not contribute to the image of the ideal women. "In regards to advertising, we use our own judgment and as long as there is a genuine human value in the advertisement then, there is a spot for it in our magazine," she said.

Burford drew a comparison between this ad campaign and that of Benetton's, which also tends to display controversial human issues. It is at the magazine's discretion to publish appropriate ads, she said. "We consider our publication an 'out there' magazine, but we certainly do not exploit any of the models we use in it," she added.

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