From Pregnant Man to Poodini - 50 Years of Taboo-Tackling Ads
The ‘Swinging Sixties’ brought us a whole new era of sexual freedom thanks to oral contraception. Known as The Pill, it was approved in 1960 in the USA, and came to Britain in 1961 - though it could only be prescribed for married women until 1967, the same year homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK.
Female sexuality soon began to take a new shape: This Noxcema shaving cream ad features a seductive blonde and the well-known striptease music, but maybe not in quite the way viewers expected then…
Personal responsibility patterns shifted, along with increased freedoms.
With the privations of the Second World War still well within living memory, fizzy antacid Alka Seltzer struck a clever note with this pie-eating ad,which made no bones about who’s responsible if you feel bad after over-eating, but did it with humour. This No Matter What Shape Your Stomach's In also became a classic for them.
The Psychedelic Seventies opened with (the now) Saatchi & Saatchi’s seminal work ‘Pregnant Man’, which brought broad social tendencies right down to personal responsibility with this brilliantly hard-hitting image and wording.
As well as challenging socio-sexual norms, the poster asked a question of masculinity itself. What it means to be a man is a topic still being explored, as with the current Men in Progress series by men’s grooming products Lynx, including this one on men and crying.
With the question of what it means to be a man comes the obvious question of femininity.
During WW2, women had stepped in to keep the economy moving as well as fulfilling their more traditional roles and supporting the war effort, and the 1960s had seen an influx of women into the traditionally male spheres of work.
Homosexuality was beginning to be reflected positively in popular TV shows, notably ‘Soap’, by the latter end of the Seventies, and in Britain, drag star Danny La Rue was at the height of his fame.
The ‘greed is good’ Eighties:
While this decade brings flashbacks of big hair and Wall St greed gone mad, taboos still ran silent and deep.
Abortion was yet to be broached, so this 1980 fundraising campaign (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AiR1fklXEkM - NO 14 at 7’02”) from the organisation now known as Planned Parenthood stands out. The US organisation’s founder, Margaret Sanger, trained as a nurse. A self-declared socialist active in the early 20th century, she believed in ‘free maternity’ and dedicated herself to the spread of birth control methods after seeing a young woman die from a self-induced abortion.
The topic of abortion continues to be largely taboo, with the trailer for Mike Leigh’s 2004 film ‘Vera Drake’ (set in Fifties Britain), one of the very few ‘ads’ to address it.
The first TV ads to be shown in Britain about abortion services only appeared in 2010, in this campaign by Marie Stopes.
The Nineties belonged to Benetton, the clothes company that didn’t just court controversy with its campaigns, but made huge, shocking strides in tackling taboos.
This 1996 campaign on racism was shot by the anti-poster boy himself, Oliviero Toscani.
Like so many Benetton ads, it raised a furore, not lessened by the fact that it was revealed to show pigs’ hearts and not actual human ones.
Toscani was also behind the camera on this work making visual the unspoken topic of sexual desire within religious orders:
Toscani parted company with Benetton for 17 years after a particularly controversial campaign reflecting the death penalty, but has re-joined them this year.
“I talk about things that are problematic and things that need to be discussed,” he told Vogue. “When I was first talking about AIDS in the 1990s, people were interested in talking about AIDS, not about what shoes were in fashion at the time."
On a far less tense note, Coca Cola brought female desire back to the foreground with this highly alluring ‘Diet Coke Break’ campaign, with sexy vocals by Etta James. Their 2017 use of a red-hot male bod in ‘Pool Boy’ opened up the field in terms of age and sexual leaning - a fun illustration of how taboos have changed over the decades.
The new millennium ushered in a whole new century but taboos persisted, some, like child abuse, too hard to depict through humans.
The NSPCC addressed the issue with this Cartoon campaign in 2002, placing the violence within the framework of a child’s fun experience to great effect. The campaign was for ChildLine, the UK’s child protection helpline set up by popular TV presenter Esther Rantzen in 1986.
David Beckham put his famous footballing and heavily tattooed body to work for UNICEF in this 2016 piece about the effects of violence on children.
Like the 2002 ChildLine campaign, it uses illustration and animation to remove the viewer one stage from actually seeing children harmed without losing impact.
Where are we now? Since 2010, it seems the barriers are coming down, with ads tackling taboos of varying magnitude:
In the wake of the Paradise Papers revelations, Oxfam put out this hard-hitter on corporate tax avoidance, often mooted as a victimless crime.
The sheer inhumanity of the unending refugee plight suffered by so many as a result of war has been starkly illustrated by UNICEF.
The disturbing issue of child brides and public reaction to it is captured in this social experiment campaign filmed in Beirut.
Ageing still appears to be a tough one, so (stylish) hats off to Adolfo Dominguez for their 2018 ‘Be More Old’ #SeMasViejo approach:
And on a lighter note, this all-singing, all-dancing and extremely clever musical tackling the topic of poo smells is a must-see:-
Oh, a word to the wise, guys/gals - our canny one-man straw poll says you don’t need five spritzes, one is plenty….
Posted by Tree Elven on 10/10/2019