Stefano Hatfield On Advertising

'FHM' editor manages to make Neil French seem like new man
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The Independent Online

First, a car ad that featured a mannequin with erect nipples as the result of an unlikely ride in the back of a Mazda (was there a draught?) was deemed to be inoffensive by the Advertising Standards Authority. This, despite it attracting 425 complaints that it was demeaning to women, offensive and unsuitable for children.

You can just see the lads "fnarr- fnarring" over the snooker table in the agency creative department as they came up with this gem. And it is easy to see how the ASA decided that the depiction of sexuality was like that in a Carry On film - presumably meaning not funny. But I am at a loss to explain how they could think that the sexual innuendo in the ad was "subtle enough to escape the attention of children"!

Does anyone at the ASA have children? If so, which erect-nipple non-spotting children did they have in mind? Bunty, Biffer and Podge from some 1950s English children's story? Madonna and Guy's overprotected sprogs? Have they never seen a St Trinian's movie?

That St Trinian's-esque British obsession with schoolgirl sexuality was apparent elsewhere this week. It appears to me that the editor of FHM rejected a double-page spread for Lucozade because the woman featured as the object of attention in the ad was too old. "It's my job as editor to ensure that the advertising in FHM matches the magazine's editorial message," said Ross Brown, inviting bemusement as to when FHM's message became so po-faced.

The ads in question were not only a tongue-in-cheek play on Lucozade's alleged restorative qualities, but were photographed in a glossily sexy style in keeping with the supposedly irreverent tone of the magazine. Didn't anyone see last week's Five documentary about FHM-aged men and their penchant for wrinkly women (don't answer that)?

Nevertheless, instead of telling the magazine to lighten up and stick its editorial message up its arse, in true FHM style, a craven GlaxoSmithKline is reshooting the ad with a younger model.

At least Brown disproved, once and for all, the myth that lad-mag sexism is "ironic". He should be congratulated for garnering publicity for all concerned. That is, if you believe that all publicity is good publicity. But it's enough to make you start believing in positive discrimination and quotas for women in media. Failing that, watch the still-gorgeous-at-60 Joanna Lumley in her new BBC series, Sensitive Skin.

AD AGENCIES react to criticism about as well as... well, the average journalist. So, I have had some heat (or, more accurately, froideur) from Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO over my less-than- glowing recent review of its latest much-trumpeted Guinness commercial. Conversely, the reaction from Grey regarding its bemusing multiple-Elvis AOL ads was - privately - to tacitly concur with the assessment. Which is an admirably grown-up approach, but does beg the question: how on earth did the ad get to see the light of day?

I AM grateful to Justin Cernis, of Walsh Trott Chick Smith, who writes to inform me that, depending on the strength of magnet desired, the starting price for an MRI scanner as advertised by Philips during the week before last's midweek Carling Cup Highlights on ITV at 11pm-ish, is £650,000. This can rise to as much as £1.5m - for a machine powerful enough to suck the fillings out of your teeth. But, buyer beware! Cernis tells me that I still may not be able to fit the scanner in my cellar, regardless of whether the ping-pong table stays or goes. Apparently, I will also need to spend approximately £250,000 to construct a Faraday cage. Whatever that is, I pray it's not a flatpack.

THE MOST memorable personal ad I ever saw was not of the "SWF seeks Italian stallion for country walks and bondage" variety, but a personal statement taken out by an individual. Richard Gere once took an ad in The Times to stress how strong his marriage to (soon to be ex) wife Cindy Crawford was. I couldn't help think of that when reading two such ads in last week's papers.

First, there was Donald Tsang, chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, who took out a personal ad that was really a corporate ad on behalf of Hong Kong: "Hong Kong Works". This was one of the all-time dog's dinners of print- ad art direction ever inflicted on an almost numb reading public. I question the £38,000 or so it presumably cost in The Daily Telegraph's Business Section. It failed to mention Bird Flu, too, which I had assumed, naively, was the point of the ad, rather than the occasion of Mr Tsang's visit to London.

Better spent was the £55,000 or so that Messrs Leonid Nevzlin, Vladimir Dubov and Mikhail Brudno (presumably Russian business barons) spent in the FT the same day, on a full-page statement from Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the billionaire former head of the Russian oil concern Yukos, jailed by President Putin.

A very cleanly laid-out ad featuring a winning shot of Khodorkovsky behind bars, and the headline, "To everyone who has supported me and continues to support me", couldn't fail to stop any reader in their tracks. It gave the lie to the perceived wisdom that no one reads press ads any longer. I read every word, enjoying particularly the passage in which the overnight multi-billionaire spoke out against those "self-serving" officials interested not in the fate of their country but their own "unbridled personal enrichment".

A mainstream ad agency could only dream of such unintended comedy, and the ability to appropriate such portentous language - "the time of mediocrity is past, the era of heroes dawns" - for any of their clients (with the possible exception of a Sky Sports trailer for a Liverpool vs Man Utd clash). I also love the Russian-translated-into-English quirk whereby Khodorkovsky speaks of himself in the third person in a manner reminiscent of the immortal, "You won't have Richard Nixon to kick around any more".


It's not often that advertising agencies and their clients are so confident about the wonderfulness of a new campaign that they take out ads in the trade press to promote the first airing of the commercials. But that's exactly what Sony and its agency Fallon did last week ahead of the first showing of its new Bravia "balls" commercial before the Manchester United vs Chelsea game.

And it is a great spot, both visually arresting and intriguing. Occasionally, I rail in this space against commercials that don't make sense, so, at first viewing, you might wonder just what releasing thousands of multicoloured bouncing balls down the winding, hilly streets of San Francisco has got to do with selling Sony televisions. The answer lies in it being the clutter-buster commercial of which Heineken could only dream.

This is the beginning of a sustained attempt by Sony both to claim vivid colour for its new range and reappropriate some of the cool lustre that brand has lost in recent years. And this spot is successful in both regards. It is lyrical advertising set to the beautiful soundtrack of "Heartbeats" by José Gonzalez. However, I liked it a lot more before I watched the "making of" DVD. Trying to explain the "concept" behind dropping coloured balls down a hill, with an earnest self-absorption worthy of a new-style lad-mag editor, as the director Nicolai Fuglsig did, was a bad idea. Stick to behind the camera, Nicolai!

e-mail with names of older women that FHM readers find sexy.