Ass-Tastic: Why Ads Are Becoming More Disgusting

Last Updated Oct 15, 2010 2:29 PM EDT

If you think advertising is becoming more tasteless, you're right. Several new campaigns -- for Levi's, Diesel, Arm & Hammer cat litter, Jack in the Box and Kotex, among others -- currently use lowbrow body-part humor or unflinching references to biological functions that would previously have been unacceptable.

Two things are occurring here. First, drug advertising, with its listing of medical conditions, has made the routine discussion of gross stuff completely normal in the advertising environment. Second, as venues for ads proliferate, it gets harder to be noticed. One way to get noticed is to be more disgusting than your competitor. Some examples:

Arm & Hammer has recently felt compelled to explain what cat litter -- not widely regarded as a mystery product -- is actually for in a campaign for its Double Duty brand:
"Now there's a new litter that even eliminates feces odors," says a chirpy actress with two cats perched on her lap in a new commercial, by Ferrara & Company, of Princeton, N.J. "Your litter may control urine odor, but what about feces?
Levi Strauss & Co. recently decided that the word "ass" is acceptable in polite company. It's new tagline is "All Asses Were Not Created Equal," which the Wall Street Journal declined to publish in full.

Jack in the Box has an ad that would be great as an SNL skit but is ill-conceived as a food promotion featuring the father of "Jack," the ping-pong-ball-headed company spokesman. In the spot, Jack visits his parents. His dad opens the kitchen door wearing pajamas and, looking down at his waist, says to Jack's mom, "Patty call the doctor. It's been more than four hours."

The ne plus ultra of the genre is Diesel's current campaign, which hinges entirely on the idea that its shoes kick butt. It's made a series of commercials in which giant backsides, talking backsides, and actual backsides are variously chased, kicked, danced or otherwise criticized.


(Side note: Is it just me, or does the butt who refuses to sell his gold in the above ad appear to be wearing a yarmulke, leaving Diesel open to accusations of anti-Semitism?)

And KFC's new campaign offers women $500 if they'll walk around college campauses with the words "Double Down" on their derrieres.

None of this justifies Extended Stay Hotels' 2008 campaign which suggested you'll feel so relaxed in their rooms that you'll break wind.

There are occasions on which straight talk about the human body is appropriate. Kotex's campaign to demystify the tampon is one of them. It included an instructional video with the script:
Remember, you have three holes down there. We're talking about the vagina. That's the middle one.
But that video was not widely broadcast and was expressly educational in nature. As for jeans and burgers? They have no such excuse. Let's hope this trend goes away soon.

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