Volume 96, Issue 94
Thursday, March 27, 2003

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Shampoo wants to sex you up

By Ila Seegobin
Gazette Staff

Feeling a bit feisty?

Is there a better way to deal with your urges than washing your hair with Herbal Essences shampoo?

Sex and alcohol have become staples in modern advertising and many argue the former taboo associated with these topics lessened as a result of the desensitizing effect of advertising.

In the past decade Herbal Essences has become synonymous with the clever catch phrase "a totally organic experience." One of its most memorable commercials involves three handsome young men washing the hair of an attractive 20-something woman whilst singing "she's got the urge."

The commercial teems with sexual innuendo linking the "organic experience" with a gang-bang. Following a torrential spray of water that can be likened to ejaculation, the woman coyly murmurs, "Boys, the bottle says repeat."

Such representation of sexual taboo in advertising is not a novel idea. According to media, information and technoculture professor Daniel Robinson, advertising has contributed to dissolving the taboo surrounding sex for some time.

"Jean companies have portrayed teen models in sexually suggestive ways that some say have a child pornographic tone to them," Robinson said.

Robinson, however, did not mean to imply that such advertisements are targeted at fulfilling the appetite of pedophiles. "[These ads have more of an] effect on the notions of self identity among teens themselves more than [they may] have had on increasing child pornography. There are more up front ways of getting child pornography in our society."

Alcohol advertising has also posed problems in regard to its affect on young teens.

According to information provided by a representative from the Centre on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY), "Youth between the ages of 12 and 20 saw 45 per cent more beer ads, 27 per cent more distilled spirit ads and 60 per cent more 'alternative' ads in magazines than adults over 21."

Such advertising, while not necessarily directly linked to under age alcoholism, fosters an awareness within younger age groups of the implied effects of alcohol.

"When more than 16 per cent of eighth-graders report having been drunk at least once in the past year, and almost 40 per cent of tenth-graders say they've been drunk, they don't need to be bombarded with the industry's good-time party ads," said Jim O'Hara, the executive director of CAMY, on the Centre's Web site.

"In terms of targeting younger audiences, there are a fair number of advertising codes that [alcohol advertisers] have to adhere to. You can't have anyone in the ad portrayed as younger than 19 and they try to get people that appear at least 25, so you don't have a lot of advertising that specifically targets a youth market. But much of what is appealing to 20-something year old men would also be appealing to teens, since many of those teens aspire to be like that age group," Robinson said.

Certain advertising companies have focused on the growing problems associated with advertising sex and alcohol.

"Sex and alcohol in advertising is a volatile issue which our company tries not to [promote]. We work with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the London-Middlesex Centre for Addiction [to deliver] free Public Service Announcements (PSA) geared at combating such problems," stated Aaron O'Donnell, vice-president of operations at the Smart Media Group

Despite the efforts of certain advertising companies to promote healthier perspectives, O'Donnell recognized a wide range of target audiences may advance certain ideals and perspectives.

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2002 THE GAZETTE