Claire Beale: Sexy or sick? The big scare over selling condoms

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The Independent Online

Have you seen the ad with the girl slurping up her own vomit. Twice. It begins at the end of the story and plays backwards. So instead of throwing up down the loo, our heroine hovers up her sick from the toilet bowl. It's enough to turn your stomach.

She got pregnant because she had sex because she got drunk. It's an ad for condoms. Compare it to the new ad for Skyn condoms launching on MTV. Oh, it's sexy. Lots of beautiful young things getting beautifully sweaty and panty. If the first condom ad was more likely to persuade you to padlock your knickers than reach for a contraceptive, this one will have you tearing your Calvins off.

Now if the advertising mandarins get their way, prophylactics could be popping up in ads breaks all over the place. You see our advertising codes are being revised and – please assume the brace position if you're sensitive -- there's a proposal to allow condom ads to air on TV before the 9pm watershed.

You won't be surprised that the prospect of such a condom fest has excited passions. Nor that new proposals to allow ads for pregnancy advisory services on television have also got the media slavering. "As teenage pregnancies soar, the Government's answer? Commercials for abortion clinics and condoms on prime-time TV" fumed the Daily Mail last week.

The new ad proposals are part of a wide-ranging review of the current advertising rules for broadcast and non-broadcast media. The official bodies that ensure the ads we see are honest and decent and true – the Committee of Advertising Practice and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice – have spent 18 months poring over 2,500 rules and guidance notes, examining more than 400 pieces of legislation, talking to a diverse mix of public, private and specialist organisations, to reshape the rules to reflect changes in media and changes in society. Finally last week the new proposals were unveiled... to general hysteria.

For the record, and despite the scaremongering headlines, ads for condoms would only be allowed around programmes when young children are unlikely to be watching. And, anyway, they would be carefully monitored and still have to comply with all the usual checks and balances on taste and decency.

As for the idea of abortion clinics rattling the public's cage in the centre break of Corrie, well the new proposals talk about "post-conception pregnancy advice services", not abortion clinics per se; the services will be required to state whether or not they refer women for abortion. And let's remember that this proposal is just that: a suggestion, open for debate.

Caught between the pressure groups who don't want to see condoms advertised and the pressure groups who don't want to see ads dealing with the consequences of not using a condom, the rule makers have a challenge on their hands.

The question the CAP and the BCAP face is whether condom ads and pregnancy advice ads drive promiscuity and unwanted pregnancy. And the answer – of course – is that these problems are much wider and much deeper.

Anyway, though contraception and pregnancy advice are the obvious tender points of the new advertising proposals, it's important to recognize the other suggestions that make less exciting headline fodder.

There's a focus on enhanced protection for children, including new scheduling restrictions on age-restricted computer games and new rules to prevent marketers from collecting data from children under 12.

Then there are new restrictions on environmental claims in ads to prevent marketers exaggerating their green credentials, new, stricter rules on nutrition and health, new measures to ensure consumer protection, including new rules on explicit terms and conditions.

The very point of the 12 week consultation period is to invite debate about the new proposals. But anyone tempted to voice a view must take time to look at the wording of the proposals themselves. Opinions based on dramatic headlines and pressure group scaremongering will undermine adland's drive to be accountable and responsible while at the same time retaining advertising's power as a vital public information tool and driver of a free market economy. You'll find the full consultation documents at

Best in show: Orange Gold Spot (Poke)

*If you've been to the cinema, you've laughed at the Orange Gold Spot ads. Mother made 26 of them. Now there are 27. The new one's by Fallon, with two great virals by Poke that really ignite the idea. The old Gold Spots were about scripts being pitched to mobile phone-obsessed producers. The new ad and virals are about scripts that have actually been made into films. The first is called 'Saving Private Ryan's Number', starring a bemused Emilio Estevez. The writing could be tighter, it could be funnier, but the depth of the new campaign gives the Gold Spots strategy an interesting new lease of life.