My old agency in Chicago (EuroRSCG then, Havas now) made some noise this week by using their entrance on Grand & Wabash as a mock peep show in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Basically, the agency “dolled up” the façade to look like a seedy strip joint. When passersby looked into the “peephole” in the window they saw a trio of black mannequins tattooed with copy about breast cancer and the agency’s pledge to donate a buck to the cause every time someone uploaded content with the hashtag #HavasPeepShow.

Conceptually, I get it. What’s not to get? It’s a bait and switch, linking breast cancer awareness with a lurid tableaux dramatizing, ahem, breast awareness. On that level I will concede it’s a clever ruse.

However, when I posted the story on Twitter and Facebook, a number of my peers derided the effort calling the stunt “cheap and facile…like a fart joke.” Another wrote: “Tone deaf hipster drivel that disrespects the intended audience – the energy would be better spent on winning clients.”


Important to note these comments came from people in the industry so they know, as well as I, that Havas Chicago did this to generate publicity for itself now and hopefully win some awards later. The self-serving nature is not lost on us.

“Us” is the key word. We in advertising know too much about ourselves and are beyond cynical when it comes to self promotion – except when we are the ones doing it. It’s like the matter of scam ads. We all bitch about other agencies creating them but somehow it’s okay when we do it.

Back to the peep show. What about pedestrians? Would they take umbrage at an ad agency doing something like this or would they just think it’s a cool idea in support of a good cause? I don’t know. Probably both and everything in between. In the above photo a mother is seen walking by the display with her young daughter. As a father of three daughters how does that make me feel? Tough call. I’m pretty liberal when it comes to my kids. How about you?

Like one of the upset commenters on Facebook, my mother had breast cancer. Fought it successfully. He thought his mom would be pissed. If I’m being honest, my mom might get a kick out of this. Mom- if you’re reading let us know.

Yet another Facebook friend said this was an “ad about women done by men.” If true, that still doesn’t make it wrong. Unless it’s sexist, which is what I think the person was suggesting. So is it? Lord knows peep shows are. But does the misdirection here make it okay? Does the end justify the means?


Girls, Girls…


And more girls.

A while back, Kim Kardashian made a sex video with some random bozo and became improbably famous, fetishizing her big boobs and ass. Shortly thereafter, the E! network launched the “groundbreaking” reality series, Keeping up with the Kardashians, fetishizing not only Kim’s big boobs and ass but her sisters as well. We also met her mom and dad and other bozos and ding-a-lings.

Later, Kim has sex with a decidedly non-random bozo and new husband, Kanye West, creating a baby, enabling her/them yet even more fame…if that’s even possible.

But stop the presses!

Because now her stepfather, Bruce Jenner has officially changed his sex to female, breaking the Internet. A “Sideshow Bob” for years on The Kardashians, “Call-Me-Caitlyn” Jenner is now the biggest get since, well, Kim Kardashian.

What do they all have in common? Sex. Having it. Changing it. Selling it. The entire Kardashian dynasty is built on sex. I don’t know if that’s cool or pathetic. Likely both. But it’s a stone-cold fact.

Sex sells. Nothing new about that. And in the first years of the 21st century nobody does it better than the Kardashians.

But what provokes me is the cloak of gravitas so many people are wont to attach to this collection of fetishes. The Kardashians are entrepreneurs! Kim is a social media expert! Caitlyn-Bruce Jenner is a brave pioneer. I’m not denying they have untold fame, followers and fortune I’m just calling bullshit on the agenda. The Kardashians want attention on an epic scale. If along with the material benefits come various side effects resembling social change so be it. It gives the Today Show a new angle into this clan morning moms can appreciate.

The Kardashians are nothing without parlaying their boobs and asses. Which now includes Caitlyn.


So Pornhub (a popular pornographic website) puts up a billboard in Times Square. It’s cute. Plays off of the obvious reason why people would traffic a site like Pornhub: to masturbate. For those unawares (all 3 of you), Pornhub curates and displays thousand of Porno videos, categorized every which way you can imagine. People go there, choose a video that suits their fancy, and well you can guess the rest. Oh, the horror.

Look, I’ve got nothing new to say about pornography. It’s been around since the beginning of mankind. Have you seen some of the content meticulously etched upon the interior walls of the Pyramids? Pharaoh so horny. We all are. And looking at pictures or video of people having sex is a very popular way of satiating one’s sex drive. Very popular. Every day, I’m guessing as many people go to Pornhub and myriad other such sites than visit CNN, Gawker or Gods of Advertising. Combined.

ancient Egypt - erotic drawing looks like fresco
Oh, Mummy!

Porn was always popular. The Internet made it, if you’ll pardon the expression, explosively so. No more stealing and hiding dad’s old Hustler’s under the mattress. No more skulking into a peep show. No more fast forwarding the VCR. All one has to do was open his (or her) laptop.

I’m old enough to remember the advent and subsequent collapse of the VCR. For about 15 years, videocassettes ruled the world. And pornography entered what many connoisseurs refer to, as it’s golden age. Not counting the obligatory college outing to Behind The Green Door, the VCR is where I watched my first porno video. There was a shop on every corner. The only problem was you had to go behind a red curtain in order to procure your, ahem, film. Pornography still managed to be the number one seller in home video entertainment. I don’t have the numbers but I know from reading up that porn movies kept a lot of mom and pop video stores open for business. Not Star Wars. Not Back to the Future. But hardcore pornography. These video stars all but killed the porno mag.

And in turn the Internet killed the video store. Online pornography flourishes like blades of grass in the suburbs. Or should I say blades of grass flourish like online pornography in the suburbs?

What this essay is about, then, is not the fact that this mildly provocative billboard got put up but that it was soon taken down “for unknown reasons.” Why are we so afraid of our own sexuality? On the surface I get it. I’ve got three daughters. If my wife is taking them to Times Square I’m guessing she’d rather not explain what Pornhub is. Not that they would ask. Not with all those scantily clad Calvin Klein and Fredericks of Hollywood models staring down at them.

We have such a f-cking double standard in this country. Frontal nudity warrants an NC17 from the MPAA. Viciously depicting the killing of hundreds of people in a film and it will receive a ho-hum PG. The Pornhub billboard showed neither. It was a silly pun and a pair of hands. Below it was and likely still is a gaudy vodka ad. Booze has caused a lot more problems than pornography, let alone masturbating. Trust me.

“He who is without sin…”

Honestly, it’s more than a gross double standard; it’s hypocrisy. Made even more ironic given Times Square used to be the peep show capital of America. I’m guessing to a man that every person who had anything to do with taking down Pornhub’s billboard has gotten it up to Pornhub as well. What did Christ say about casting stones? Oh yeah, we always forget.

What are they looking for? It’s obvious…

There’s a simple and obvious reason why so many people are constantly checking their smart phones. Two reasons actually. Yet, I’ve not seen or read or heard anyone use either one to explain (their) behavior. But that doesn’t make my hypothesis any less debatable. On the contrary, the silence supports it. I think people are embarrassed to admit to one or the other reason. Why? Because they point to our vanity and that makes us uncomfortable.

The two reasons: 1. We don’t want to miss the girl or the boy or the party. 2. We don’t want to miss the opportunity of a lifetime.

Though based on intuition I’m 98% certain that variations on the above two reasons are why so many of us can’t stop checking our smart phones. Girls are waiting for that cute guy to call. Boys are scoping where tonight’s action is. And both sexes like to think a new opportunity awaits them (a job perhaps) in the very next email.

Anticipating special delivery…

Beneath vanity lies the human instinct for getting something be it sex, money or some other thrilling surprise. Obviously, this desire is older than smart phones. As a boy I can remember running to the mailbox when I heard the mailman walking up our steps. Whether I was waiting for the latest issue of Fishing Facts magazine, The Incredible Hulk or a note from the girl I met at summer camp it didn’t matter. I wanted my thing. Even if I didn’t know what it was. The anticipation was always there. (By the way, anticipation usually far exceeds reality -a lesson I did not learn until much later in life.)

Marketers have wisely and often cravenly taken advantage of our instinctual cravings. Fanning the flames of desire to elicit a purchase or behavior is fundamental to our business. The marketers that understand how to exploit it properly are the ones that thrive. This is why there is so much hype around capitalizing on smart phones. Marketers know people can’t stop checking them in the vainglorious hope something sexy awaits. Ergo if advertisers can tap into that they win. Alas, their spam rarely fits into this paradigm. It gets in the way. Yet, advertisers will keep trying because people keep checking.

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“Let’s check our phones! Let’s not!”

Let me finish by returning to my original hypothesis. If correct, the insight leads to even more interesting ones. For instance, it explains why young people are far more tied to their smart phones than older people. The pat explanation holds that seniors aren’t as tech literate or modern as twenty-somethings and therefore less savvy. But maybe it’s just that older folks aren’t craving hookups and headhunters. Could this mean oldsters are more apt to respond to marketers because their expectations are more grounded?

Getting underneath human behavior is one of the cooler aspects of our jobs in Adland, and life in general. It also puts a premium on intuition versus data.

Following tradition or just a boob?

I thought Seth MacFarlane’s bawdy opening number at the Oscars, “We Saw Your Boobs” might pass by my radar but the story continues to gain traction, the latest commentary coming from the California Legislative Women’s Caucus. In a formal complaint written to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences the group claimed his gig “struck a new low in its treatment of women.” More excerpts from the letter can be found here. The gist of their argument is that women have a hard enough time gaining respect for their contributions in Hollywood, let alone society in general, without sophomoric displays like Seth’s bringing them down and on one of the biggest stages in the world no less.

I won’t disagree. However, I will say that Oscar and Hollywood have objectified women for years, often without comment. It seems every other movie features women in highly sexualized roles, many of them beloved by both sexes. And I’m not just talking about “B” movies, though those are obviously the most blatant examples. but what about the so-called “Bond Girls” which have become a huge part of that cannon’s attractive lore?

“Ah, so women do have value!”

Shaken and stirred!

Are not these ladies merely eye candy for James and every other Tom, Dick and Harry? Of course they are. And while a few of these actresses actually could act it was for their bodies they were cast. One literally in gold. Save for ardent feminists nobody complains, least of all the actresses, whom as far as I can tell, covet the part.

There are countless examples of women being subjugated, objectified and demeaned in film and television. That doesn’t make it right but it does make singling out questionable episodes in the industry, well, questionable.

Still, it’s hammering on the Academy Awards that trips me up. For hours leading up to the ceremony itself media from all over the world line up to photograph and film the actresses as they sashay into the auditorium. People adore the spectacle, especially women. On both sides of the camera. So much so it is called it the “Red Carpet” and it is considered a must-see. The next day hundreds of “critics” pass judgment, many of them cruelly. But we laugh. We vote. Indeed, we pass judgment ourselves. Is this not text textbook definition of ogling?

It’s the Grammy’s so that doesn’t count…

One might reply that it is their clothes we are looking at and not the ladies. True. But it is the dresses that show more of the ladies that draw our attention and the slavish commentary. True? Furthermore, why should actresses be obligated to parade in front of the entire world in flamboyant, revealing gowns in the first place? Especially while most of their dates don black tie. What does that have to do with their acting chops? It doesn’t.

“This has nothing to do with my ability but I LOVE IT!”

The Red Carpet is tradition. And women adore it. Even I dare say the California Legislative Women’s Caucus. I could end there but I have one more thought. Is Seth MacFarlane taking it on the chin because he’s a man? Let’s say Tina Fey was hosting the Oscars (not a stretch) and she sang the exact same song (not a stretch), would that make it wildly funny instead of wildly inappropriate? You know the answer as well as I do.


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