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Home > Culture and Society

Adverjism: New Balls Please

12 February 2006

A few months back advertising agency big cheese Neil French opined that the reason so few women ascend to his professional level in the industry is that 'they're crap'. Naturally after this Ratner-esque swan dive he was summarily ejected with the speed of a stray Silk Cut from Marlboro's employee lounge. But the comment, and the swift boot to the arse that followed, were both sad indictments of a pervasive attitude that no one can really be surprised by, and that no one knows what to do about besides slamming doors on it. Advertising is the business of blowing things up huge and shoving them in your face until you submit to their awesomeness, and as such it's a world where the qualities of people and the differences between them are writ extremely large. It's all high speed and big money, and runs on testosterone; as with several other industries it's got a swaggering masculinity about it, meaning that in general it simply aligns itself more readily with men who enjoy the feeling of being very male. The 15% of senior ad agency directors who aren't male probably have a good smile to themselves, watching them beat their chests over the new Lynx account, as they themselves reluctantly ponder how best to flog tampons. It's a pantomime with too much lipstick and Brian Blessed beards, and it's going to be slow to evolve.

Of course there's nothing inherently wrong with rampant manliness, nor with advertising to men; but there's a hilarious backfiring clunkiness to the new Peugeot campaign that makes it embarrassing for the beknobbed and knobless alike. Like so many ideologically dubious spots, it's beautifully shot and has lovely music, the slinky 'Whatta Man' by Lynda Lyndell - this plays over scenes of a world populated entirely by women. Women with great legs thronging through a city with nary a man in sight, like herds of well-dressed gazelle. They're doing all the jobs, drinking all the beverages and generally getting on very well. A few of them cast curious, gossipy glances at the supposedly sleek and sharklike new Peugeot 407 Coupe as it moves amongst them. At last it draws to a graceful halt, and the driver's door opens - cut to a Lois Lane-esque female countenance, curvilinear jaw gently dropping in surprise and admiration like a mouth in a Lichtenstein print. Then on black, the killer line - 'MEN ARE BACK'.

It's one of those ads that just makes every muscle in your body clench at once - not through the outrage it might be fancying it's going to provoke, but out of sheer mortification at its tumbledown misguidedness. For a start, it seems to wilfully and forcefully alienate a good proportion of its potential audience, who could probably quite fancy a Peugeot 407 if every Volkswagen, Fiat and Renault in existence had been bought up by the wealthy denizens of carless Mars. But it also assumes that this witless claim is going to appeal to men, who in the main aren't actually so insecure as to be disturbed by thirty seconds of TV airtime without any members of their gender in sight. The tagline doesn't speak so much of casually confident male consumer power, but of a desperate nerdsome weediness that doesn't quite get sand kicked in its face, but at least watches cravenly while someone else gets sand kicked in their face. The thin Kraft cheese slice patina of irony doesn't save it, either - however tongue-in-cheek it thinks it is, it's appealing to the mythical Modern Men In Crisis, who long to be recognised not as emasculated grocery- shopping chore-sharers but as... spear-carrying... um... drivers of faintly girly cars.

Having irritated women and embarrassed men, Peugeot are likely to find their sales limited to the kind of tragic berk who goes on advert-fan messageboards to ask 'Any idea who that gorgeous babe at the end of the ad is?' And possibly some aliens, who have evolved beyond all this ridiculousness and just want something nippy to run the kids to school in.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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