The hard sell

Advertisers have discovered a new tool - the male erection. John Turnmill reveals all
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How times change. A new government, English cricketers who can actually hit the ball, victory in the Eurovision Song Contest - all these things make you think we stand at the dawn of a new era. And you'd be right. The final proof comes, as ever, from the world of perfume advertising. That staple of schlock TV culture, the Impulse ad, has abandoned years of spooky, flower- giving commercials and embraced the new Britain with an advert featuring the final taboo - the male erection.

No, really, I'm not making it up. For, on Monday night, Impulse splurges its new ad on screen and, where before there were flowers, now there is a hard-on.

The plot of the commercial is simple. There's an art class in full swing and everyone is earnestly sketching away at a male nude. To the cheery backbeat of "Pressure Drop" by Jimmy Cliff, our heroine enters and parades across the crowded hall to her seat in front of the dashing model. He catches a swift whiff of her Impulse, clocks her confidently sensual face and, uh oh, rises to the occasion. We don't get a full frontal close-up, of course, but you don't need much imagination.

"The erection is not really the point," says Graziela Calfat, European innovations manager for Elida Gibbs. "The ad shows a woman who's feeling attractive and confident about herself. We're not looking to have the erection formula taking over from the flowers formula. There's no real difference between the erection and the flowers, it's all about the reaction an attractive woman gets."

You'd be forgiven for saying, "Oh yeah?" at this point, but let's take Calfat at her word. She maintains that, after extensive research, the company finally realised that the handing over of flowers in the street was not a big part of women's romantic fantasies some 20 years after it was first introduced. She says women want something more challenging and innovative with a bit more attitude. (She avoids saying women want men to have erections when they walk in the room.)

This follows a bit of a trend in advertising. Calfat is absolutely correct when she says that the woman is the boss. This model sweats, looks awkward and stupid and gets laughed at by the rest of the class. He's in the same vein as the sculpted bimbos in the Boddington's commercial or the pert-bottomed lad washing the Peugeot car bonnet in the new 306 ad, while his wife stares longingly at him from her bedroom. In advertising's new lexicon, men are cute, muscled and, frankly, not too bright.

All this is having an effect on the chaps. There is a new report out from adland research consultancy Davies Riley- Smith Maclay which says that men - particularly young professionals - are concerned at the effect of all these perfect male bodies yielding control to women in contemporary ads. They feel under pressure from advertisers, according to Lucy Bannister, a director of Davies Riley, although some of them find being dominated a turn-on.

Of course, this could be seen as whingeing by women who have spent years at the mercy of adland and its desire to spread their bodies over everything from double glazing to woodwork tools. So, in the time- honoured tradition, it's probably going to be a case of: "There, there, you poor dears. Now, grow up and stop snivelling."

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