One recent ad, for radio station Atlantic 252 exemplifies a new wave of laddishness that is sweeping the world of advertising. It presents a ghetto blaster with the speakers moulded (you've guessed it) into the shape of breasts. Try reading out the headline without a subliminal snigger. It reads: "Long range radio has the biggest hits." The ad's mood hardly puts it out on a limb. Ads by lads are back, all over your screens and magazines.
This probably isn't surprising. After all, the lad's bible, loaded, this month overtook GQ as Britain's best-selling men's magazine. A similar combination of lads' great loves - beer, sex and footy - has become a recipe for the new wave of ads.
Jiffy Condoms has made a daring cinema ad in which a puny man lies in bed with a voluptuous woman. Beside himself with lust, he attempts to put the brakes on his desire by thinking about football, shouting out "Bobby Charlton!" as he reaches orgasm. The Stella Artois newspaper campaign shows a female hop-picker, with the line: "Ah, there's nothing like the aroma of a full-bodied female after a day in the field." In small print at the bottom, the ad explains that the female in question is Stella's preferred variety of hop. Boddington's new campaign for its Export lager depicts a good-looking bloke with his arm around a hideous cartoon girl. "Her dad owns the brewery," reads the caption. And Saatchi & Saatchi have produced an X-rated, as-yet-unseen, commercial with a page three model lewdly caressing a can of Castlemaine XXXX.
Hugh Todd and Adam Scholes, a youthful duo now at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, caused a storm earlier this year with their freelance campaign for Harley- Davidson. One cinema commercial showed a woman whose husband forced her to work as a prostitute because money was scarce, and then showed the husband beside his new motorbike, with the slogan: "Harley-Davidson. A completely irresponsible thing to do." The chairman of rival agency Lowe Howard-Spink, Adrian Holmes, was unimpressed when the ad won an award earlier this year, using the occasion to launch an attack on "yobbish advertising". But Todd says grandly: "Political correctness is the enemy of creativity. You have got to talk how people think. Sorry, but the New Age man isn't real - men aren't like that."
Certainly, caring-sharing New Man seems to have disappeared. Why? Virginia Valentine, managing director of Semiotic Solutions, a company which analyses the meanings behind the ads for companies such as BT, Elida Gibbs and Tesco, claims the new attitude is caused by a battle between the sexes. "The gender power game has different rules today and laddishness is a way of trying to put some order back into the chaos of modern male/female relations." And how does it do that? "Through apparently giving men a new power over women."
Who is making these new commercials? Mostly blokes in their 20s and 30s. As ever, women are few and far between in today's creative departments. Rosie Elston, 25, and Mary-Sue Lawrence, 24, at Mustoe Merriman Herring Levy, comprise one of a handful of female creative teams in London. "Creative departments are laddish and you have to be strong to deal with it. The conversations, inevitably, are about football and beer," says Elston.
And the explosion of vocational advertising courses is turning out clones, according to Ogilvy & Mather's Patrick Collister. "Creatives these days tend to come from similar backgrounds. They are very boysy. They almost inevitably have regional accents, their hair is long and they spend half the working week playing Fantasy Football," he says. When Collister started his career in the mid-70s, creative departments were more variegated, comprising Oxbridge arts graduates, research chemists, and mavericks like Salman Rushdie. "Now they are all from art school with polished portfolios," he complains.
But do "creatives" only write ads for people like themselves? Few who saw Wonderbra's "Hello boys" posters - applauded by many women for portraying a new female sexual confidence - would guess that they were written by a man, Trevor Beattie, the creative director of TBWA. Beattie believes it's wrong to blame laddish ads on the overwhelming number of men in creative departments: "Women can be as laddish as men."
He has a point. Next time you see a copy of teen-girl's magazine More!, take a look at the advice page and its explicit "position of the fortnight" tip, which wouldn't be out of place in loaded. Remember, says Beattie, it was a woman who came up with Saatchi & Saatchi's infamous Club 18-30 posters promoting the sexual nature of the holidays through crude captions such as "Beaver Espana!" The campaign was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority. Rosie Elston at Mustoe Merriman says: "I am really envious of the Harley ads. I would have loved to have done them."
Ad people always say that they don't shape attitudes, they just reflect what is already there. Saatchi & Saatchi team Jo Tanner, 32, and Viv Walsh, 31, courted controversy earlier this year with an ad for Great Frog jewellery which carried the caption "If you don't like our jewellery, fuck off". It won an award, but roused the ire of anti-yob moralists. Tanner observes that while ads carry a certain responsibility, "we are only preaching to the converted. We are always riding on the back of what is already acceptable." And if sales rise, this stance is justified. "If we do something unacceptable then people won't buy the product," he argues.
But what is the difference between the new ads and old-fashioned crudity? The answer, it seems, is subtlety and irony. Playing with sexist language is fine, so long as it's done with wit and warmth, claims Beattie. He points to the Atlantic 252 ghetto blaster ad to demonstrate how laddish advertising can go wrong. "An ad like this is crass and one dimensional. The people who made it clearly hate women. A tit joke is a tit joke is a tit joke."
Atlantic 252's ad was, indeed, written by two men - creatives at ad agency Manifesto. But the account director is a woman, Anne Green. She insists the ad is a bit of a "giggle". "We wanted to put across a cheeky image. Most of my female friends think it's great. Don't you find washing powder ads and floor cleaning ads so much more offensive?"
Is there an end in sight? Not yet. The next few months will see the launch of two new magazines perfectly suited to laddish ads - Total Sport and Total Football. So if you haven't developed the right sense of humour yet, you'd better do it fast. Ads for lads are here to stay. Fwoorh!
6 Harriet Green is a section editor at 'Campaign'.Reuse content