11 December 2009


Someone recently reminded me of the definition of insanity: continuing to repeat the same behavior, but expecting different results. I might add to this: and continuing to feel frustration with the same results.

I read an interesting blog post over at The Unbearable Banishment about advertising that features blatantly provocative imagery. While the author did not personally find the imagery appealing, his concern was that the image was front and center on large-scale public display in one of the busiest intersections in Manhattan during the peak of Christmas season. Children might see it.

For how many generations have parents been trying to shield their children from human sexuality, promiscuity, tobacco, drugs, violence, alcohol, deception, cheating, vulgar language, inappropriate behavior…. feel free to add to the list. Is the answer FOREVER?

And what results have we witnessed? Children enter puberty right on schedule, become curious and confused about their interesting new feelings, are exposed to new social challenges, and have all sorts of opportunities to make complex decisions about mature subject matter with their still not-fully-formed brains. The human brain does not fully mature at the age of 18 or 21, actually it takes a bit longer. Surprise.

On the one hand, Unbearable Banishment may have a point. Seriously, how necessary is advertising of this genre? I don’t happen to know the answer, but I’m wondering about the actual financial reward from a big, steamy advertising blitz like this one. Obviously the point is to craft a brand image, steering public opinion about the company in the minds of potential future customers. I suppose there is a measurable reward. Some potential future customers will convert to actual customers when faced with their next product buying opportunity. But really, to what extent is any buying decision driven solely by brand image, and not influenced, perhaps rather heavily by more practical factors like cost, fit, comfort, color, design, convenience, etc.

Well, unless this company hires me or Unbearable Banishment to head up their marketing campaigns, they are unlikely to change their branding strategy anytime soon.

So then that leads us back to the earlier quandary. If provocative imagery in advertising is here to stay in our daily lives (which it is), then how do we coexist peacefully? How do we not fall into the same patterns as former generations of parents, hiding, denying, shaming, condemning? How do parents find the fortitude to address mature subject matter with an immature audience in a way that sets a healthy example? And, beyond finding the fortitude, how, actually does any parent successfully discuss an advanced topic without getting preachy, hyper-emotional, or cynical?

My parents didn’t have the answer. I don’t happen to know any parents who do. I guess that is why we can all relate to this tongue-in-cheek definition of insanity. It hits close to home.


  1. Very interesting post. My problem with it is the messages sent to young girls and boys not just about sex, but about the bodies that are "normal" and "beautiful." So many young girls start on a path of eating disorders and self-destructive behaviors because they don't fit the stereotypes idolized in ads. Makes me sad and pouty.

  2. Good post. Have you seen the new insane one that Reebock has about the boobs being jealous of the butt? Yeah right, like that's gonna make me go out and buy those shoes! It's crazy, but what's the answer? Don't think anything is gonna change anytime soon.

  3. I agree. I think the provocative imagery pushes the edge far too often these days. But I don't have a clue how to deal with it in the perfect way. Fortunately, my kids are in college now.