This morning I was stuck on a bus going up Piccadilly – the street itself and Hyde Park Corner were partly blocked to accommodate the Chinese gangster who’s staying at Buckingham Palace.
That was bad enough, but having to look at the back of the bus in front of me was even worse.
Staring me in the face was a giant ad showing semi-naked Rafael Nadal striking a seductive pose in Tommy Hilfiger underwear.
Now I have for advertising that special feeling I reserve for the profession that still continues to feed me 10 years after I left it. I also have an analytical reflex when looking at an ad.
Questions pop up in my mind the way pictures of fruit pop up in a Las Vegas one-armed bandit. What’s the target audience? What’s the marketing strategy? What’s the advertising brief? You know, that sort of thing.
Most advertising for most products these days relies on glamorising various deadly sins, such as envy, avarice, gluttony or sloth. In product categories like grooming, personal hygiene and clothes, especially underwear, the widely targeted sin is lust.
There’s nothing new about that – advertisers have always known that sex sells. Such ads have appealed to people’s sexuality since God was young.
Except that now they increasingly appeal not just to sexuality but specifically to homosexuality.
I don’t really know who buys Tommy Hilfiger briefs. In fact, until I saw the ad this morning I hadn’t had a clue who Tommy Hilfiger is.
Such ignorance is a definite indication that people like me, old, overweight, married chaps, aren’t the target market. If we were, you can be absolutely sure the advertiser would have found a way of reaching us with his message.
So fine, a roly-poly gentleman of a certain age who writes vituperative prose, drinks single malts and walks out of any establishment where pop music is played isn’t the target for Tommy Hilfiger intimate apparel.
Who is? This question is easy for an old advertising hand to answer.
The model, in this case Nadal, is supposed to cause sexual arousal by exposing his nude torso and shapely behind, creating in the viewer’s mind a subliminal bond between such a pleasurable feeling and the brand advertised.
Fair enough. This sort of thing works, and even I am man enough to admit to not being totally impervious to visual titillation. Except that what I find titillating isn’t a muscular naked chap. Those old Hello Boys! ads for Wonderbra are more my sort of thing. Or else – let me make sure my wife isn’t looking over my shoulder – the current Charlize Theron commercials for Dior.
I imagine some women may be turned on by an image of an undressed beefcake, but I doubt many women sport men’s underwear. They may see the pouch sewn in at the front as superfluous.
Some women must buy underwear for their men, but there probably aren’t enough of them to justify spending many millions on an advertising campaign – and take my word for it, many millions is what this campaign cost.
That leaves only one audience both susceptible to a bare-all tennis player and large enough to pay for the advertising budget: male homosexuals.
When I got home, I looked on Google and instantly found a TV commercial for the same product. It shows Nadal catwalking toward a fitting room, dropping his clothes as he goes.
When he’s down to his Tommy Hilfigers, he pulls them halfway down but stops at the critical moment. He then smiles seductively and shakes his head, as if saying “Thus far, you naughty boy, but no further.” Cut to the logo.
Now every advertising agency keeps a thick volume of information on potential celebrity endorsers. These are rated according to their credibility for various audiences and product categories.
For Nadal to justify his fee – and he doesn’t cross the street for less than seven digits – he had to rate very high on credibility for underwear aimed at a homosexual market.
Whether his own sexuality has anything to do with it, and it does appear ambivalent at times, I don’t know and frankly don’t care. But I do care about the nation’s moral health, and I doubt it’s well served by an open appeal to decadence.
In fact, in his book Le suicide français the French author Eric Zemmour partly attributes the eponymous suicide to the profusion of advertising explicitly aimed at homosexual audiences.
I rather think that Zemmour confuses cause and effect, as he tends to do. What he diagnoses as a disease is merely its symptom, but it’s a telling one.
Explaining his imposition of a urine tax, Emperor Vespasian (d. 79AD) presciently formulated the principle that now guides all commercial activity: Pecunia non olet. Money doesn’t smell.
If there’s money in it, even our government doesn’t mind kissing Chinese gangsters on the part so provocatively exposed by Nadal.
So can one expect a purely commercial enterprise to be concerned about the nation’s moral health? Of course not. Not these days, at any rate.