Press-and-play bra ad is 'most sexist yet'

Pretty Polly, the lingerie label that makes a virtue of targeting women rather than men, will tomorrow unveil what leading feminists describe as the most "sexist" advert yet.

Pretty Polly, the lingerie label that makes a virtue of targeting women rather than men, will tomorrow unveil what leading feminists describe as the most "sexist" advert yet.

Situated in bus shelters, the larger-than-lifesize photograph of a model in slinky red underwear, will feature a button placed precipitously close to her breasts inviting passers-by to press it. When they do, the model begins to talk, explaining the benefits of her "Baroque" bra and where it can be bought.

News of the ad comes after a week in which Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry Secretary, condemned organisers of the British International Motor Show for using scantily clad women to promote it. She dismissed a publicity poster as "pathetic", "old-fashioned" and "a 1950s cliché".

The Pretty Polly poster, part of the brand's £1m pre-Christmas sales push, is being hailed by its creators, London-based agency Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy (MCBD), as a breakthrough in "interactive" advertising. Industry observers say it signals a future world ­ like that forecast in the Steven Spielberg film Minority Report ­ where adverts will be able to "identify" passers-by and address them by name.

But feminists remain unconvinced. Beatrix Campbell, currently visiting professor in women's studies at Newcastle University, said it was merely the latest product of the "Loaded culture" promoted by "unreconstructed, oafish, Chris Evans-type blokes".

"The Pretty Polly ad is about something women wear, but it is produced for men's pleasure. It says: 'Here you are, you can press the button and do what you like with her.' As soon as advertisers are given the opportunity to go back to the bad old days, they do." Dismissing what she called the "fake irony" of "lads' magazines", she said: "Everybody knows all it's about is these gross, farting, boozing men behaving badly."

Natasha Walter, the Independent columnist and author of The New Feminism, said the new poster, like the Motor Show ads before it, was symptomatic of the continuing inequalities between men and women in modern Britain. "The fact that things haven't really changed in the advertising industry is so linked to the continuing disempowerment of women throughout society."

Echoing Professor Campbell's view, she added: "It's not ironic at all. Where's the irony? It's all about people getting off on half-dressed women."

Trevor Beattie, the ad wunderkind responsible for the celebrated "Hello Boys!" Wonderbra posters featuring supermodel Eva Herzigova, has a more prosaic concern: he finds the advert boring.

"It's not sexist, it's just mundane," he said. "The ads are both examples of the same thing: they are utterly uninspired. If one or two prominent people didn't pick up on these adverts and complain about them, they are so bland that no one else would even notice them."

Defending the Pretty Polly poster, managing director Sue Clague said: "You've got to take it as a piece of fun. Women wear underwear to feel nice and look nice. The sexiness in the picture is what I would call a feminine sexiness. The campaign is targeted at women, but we want to make it fun ­ and we are not anti-men."

Ms Clague, whose company recently produced the Bumboost ­ "for the perfect, pert rounded bottom you've always dreamed of" ­ added: "Underwear advertising is a very overcrowded market, and you have to take some risks to get noticed."

As for the view from the Loaded lads themselves, Keith Kendrick, the magazine's outgoing editor, said: "Why is it OK for women to have a pop at men, but men can't do the same? Women know men have a sense of humour, and we assume they do too."

Who will dare push PP and be labelled 'P for pathetic'?

By Peter York

"And will you tweak the nipple, Veronica?"

How exactly will people use the new "interactive" Pretty Polly "Baroque" bra poster campaign that appears this week at a bus shelter near you? The interactivity's all about a strategically placed button which says "Press for lift". When you do she starts to talk, pitching the bra's incomparable benefits. The button isn't really on the nipple ­ it's in the middle, north of the navel. But who'll press first ­ consumer information seekers or 12-year-old boys? And in what state of mind?

Just imagine being the single adult man in the bus shelter with, say, eight women around you. Would you press and be labelled "P for pathetic"? The whole thing's obviously been designed by a Situationist as an art installation. It certainly puts Patricia Hewitt in a new light. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry ­ unlike her predecessor she doesn't use the title President ­ objected strenuously to the "sexist" poster for the Motor Show featuring yet another woman in a bra and saying "the other way to your man's heart is down the M6". She said it was "old-fashioned ­ confirming old stereotypes". The stereotype in question was of cars as boys' toys when modern girls were just as keen. Anyway she got a bollocking all round, from the trad Tory view that this was just Labour killjoys spoiling it for everyone, through to the sophisticated girlies on the women's pages who said she clearly didn't understand how thoroughly post-feminist and empowering, ironic and ambiguous modern ladies' underwear advertising could be. Anyway, the offending poster was designed by a woman.

Just remember, when you find yourself up close to Pretty Polly's talking midriff, that there's an undisclosed extra bit of tech in the kit. True to the conceptual art installation tradition there's a hidden camera in every poster. Here's looking at you, boys.

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