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Taboos 2019: Six Silence-Breakers

Every year we’re seeing more taboos – those topics we’re uncomfortable talking about as a society – being tackled in ads and brand marketing. Here’s a rundown of Six Silence-Breakers that caught our eye in 2019.

Sexual diversity

This was the year that high-end fashion house Ralph Lauren – a hot favourite with conservative preppy types – featured a same-sex couple for the first time in one of their commercials, and fellow fashion label Calvin Klein sparked controversy among the LGBTQ community by showing model Bella Hadid kissing a robot (image above).

Gay Times used pixellation to focus attention on censorship of LGBTQ life around the world, including the UK, in this LGBTQ media activism campaign.

And toy giant Mattel, creator of the 60-year-old ‘one sold every 11 seconds’ Barbie doll, launched a de-gendered range of dolls called Creatable World, drawing fresh attention to early conditioning and sexualisation.

Men’s mental health

Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 in Britain. In 2019, UK charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) followed up its 2018 installation of Mark Jenkins male suicide figures with a striking interactive street campaign activated via outdoor digital displays and billboards across London, Manchester and Birmingham - the kind we all walk past each day. The boards were connected live to the CALM helpline so that whenever a call came in, the OOH display ‘rang’, alerting passers-by to the prevalence of the problem, and the importance of the service.

Also in 2019, Prince William spoke out for mental health awareness in this radio campaign. With audio making a huge comeback via podcasts and voice command devices on top of plain ole radio, this was a significant promotion of listening as an art to watch out for in 2020, as well as a boost to mental health awareness.


Urine leakage is something most of us would probably find hard to handle with impact and sensitivity in marketing, so hats off to Swedish brand TENA.

They’d tackled incontinence in men with excellent stylish humour in this 007-style spoof, and in 2019 they riffed off our expectations of female fashion ads, setting up big bold billboards featuring diverse female models on London’s super-busy shopping thoroughfare, Oxford Street.

Honourable mention to Elvie, the company that aims to improve women’s lives through the use of technology: this ad for the Elvie (pelvic floor) Trainer is informative without being dull, and acknowledges the interest of post-menopausal women, not just new mums, in the device’s functioning.


Silver/grey/white hair

Man, this one’s a long time falling…. You can see why, hair dye is big business and these hair colours have been skilfully used down through the decades to reinforce ageism and instil fear in both men and women around loss of sex appeal, youth, and probably your job too.

Schwarzkopf had picked up on the new young trend favouring these hair shades with this sassy ad, and 2019 saw fellow hair products brand Pantene chipping in with a welcome ‘women are silver foxes too’ message.

Other brands – such as liqueur Tia Maria and Bold detergent – also started going against the ‘greyn’ in 2019 as silver hair continues to shake loose from the taboo box.


While the use of medical marijuana via prescription in the UK is now legal, there is little to show for the shift in legislation so far. In the USA, this form of cannabis is legal on a state by state basis, and is fast becoming big business. This ground-breaking ad, directed by Spike Jonze for US firm MedMen, aims to reposition our perceptions so that we're seeing the medical use of marijuana as 'the new normal'.

On a stronger note, the state of South Dakota, USA, grabbed attention with this controversial public announcement around meth addiction. Though many of us have heard of the opioids crisis in the USA, the powerful recreational drug methamphetamine, aka crystal meth, is an even bigger problem in some regions.



No longer just monologues.

2019 campaigns combined understanding and beautiful boldness in their handling of vaginal and female genitalia topics, as in the ‘Viva la Vulva’ bathroom art by Oliwia Bober.

Durex tackled vaginal dryness head-on with this breezy ‘Ladies, Let’s Lube’ campaign encouraging women – and not just older ones – to regard it as natural to reach for an occasional lubricant to improve their sex lives.

And Thinx provoked useful thought with its role reversal treatment of menstruation in this ad for its period-proof underwear.

Don’t miss our ‘2020 Taboos to Look Out For’, to be published on December 27th, 2019. Join our VIP List by sending 'Yes please!' to my email here, and I’ll ping you the link as it comes off the press!

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Posted by Tree Elven on 20/12/2019

Keywords: Taboos, Taboo, 2019 review, sexual diversity, incontinence, men's mental health, grey hair, meth, cannabis, vaginal dryness, menstruation, taboos in advertising, marketing

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