Vegetarians sex up their advertising to persuade people to eat their greens

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In the best double entendre traditions of British humour, the Vegetarian Society is aiming to shed its outdated image of bearded, sandal-wearing non-meat-eaters with a suggestive advertising campaign built on sexual imagery.

In the best double entendre traditions of British humour, the Vegetarian Society is aiming to shed its outdated image of bearded, sandal-wearing non-meat-eaters with a suggestive advertising campaign built on sexual imagery.

The nudge-nudge, wink-wink film of people handling vegetables in a provocative way aims to encourage consumers to try an alternative to their traditional meat and two veg. It poses the question: "Can you keep it up for a week," encouraging non-vegetarians to try shunning meat for seven days.

And, in keeping with the majority of pornographic imagery these days, the 30-second film is only available on the internet. The "gastroporn" film became an "in-joke" among members of the British Vegetarian Society after being screened in a selection of cinemas, prompting its posting on the internet to coincide with National Vegetarian Week which runs from 23 May until 29 May.

Set in a steamy kitchen, the film begins with a ripe melon being groped by a man's hand. It then shows a women's fingers fondling a banana and goes on to feature a number of provocative poses with vegetables, before finishing with white rice droplets shooting into the air followed by a wilting asparagus, juice dripping from its head.

A spokesman for the Vegetarian Society - formed in 1847 to "advance the principle of abstinence from flesh-eating" - said the film was intended to highlight the "sexy" side of eating vegetables and dispel the myth that vegetarians are all emaciated "sandal-wearing wimps".

Kerry Bennett of the National Vegetarian Society said the film had been around for some time until it was accidentally sent out to members of the public last month. "We showed it in a few cinemas a little while back but since then it has been something of a favourite among the staff in the office," Ms Bennett said. "Unfortunately it got sent out to a few people by mistake last month and some of them rang up to either feign mock embarrassment or simply say how good it was.

"We realised then that it fitted perfectly with our theme this year which is 'Can you keep it up for a week'. It may be full of innuendo but it still has a serious message about trying to turn people on to vegetarianism."

This year's campaign, an annual event which has been running since 1992, is being fronted by the comedian Dave Spikey. More than 100,000 leaflets have been printed featuring the comic, one of a number of showbusiness personalities such as Paul McCartney and his daughter Stella, the designer, the rock star Meatloaf and Coldplay's frontman, Chris Martin, who are vegetarian.

In 1996 publicity for the event took off after one of the society's posters showing a courgette with the slogan "the taste of things to come" was banned from railway stations. "We didn't go looking for controversy but when the ad was banned we got even more publicity," said a spokesman, who admitted that unlike 1996 this year's campaign was intended to be suggestive.

The film, on the charity's website: www.rudefood.org, had received 15,000 hits by yesterday.

How sex sells

* The Keep Britain Tidy campaign caused outrage when it threw away the cloak of respectability it had worn for more than 50 years to encourage people to put rubbish in the bin and swapped it for a more raunchy image intended to focus the attention of teenagers and young adults - the worst offenders in littering terms - by using images of scantily clad women and men with suggestive comments such as "While you're down there..."

* The British Safety Council provoked the greatest number of complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority when, in 1995, it launched a campaign to mark national condom week. A leaflet which showed the Pope wearing a safety helmet with the slogan "Eleventh commandment: Thou shalt always wear a condom" upset a lot of people and drew more than 1,000 letters of protest from viewers.

* The British Advertising Standards Authority told Ryanair to stop running an advertising campaign for their low-cost airfares which featured oral sex innuendos. The questionable tagline read, "Blow Me! These Fares are Hard to Swallow!" Ryanair agreed that the lines were suggestive but denied they were offensive.

* Booksonline caused controversy with an advert intended to get more people interest in reading with a photograph of a naked couple on a bed in what appeared to be a position from the Kama Sutra. On closer inspection of the image they were actually reading books.

* More recently the manufacturers of Pot Noodle have drawn a large number of complaints for their sexual innuendo referring to the "pot noodle horn" and tag lines such as "hurt me, you slag" which the company claimed was meant to convey the hot and spicy flavour of its products.

* The British Advertising Standards Authority also took action against the lingerie company Gossard which ran a poster campaign showing naked men and women surrounded by discarded bras and knickers, accompanied by slogans like "Bring him to his knees," "Moan, moan, moan" and "If he's late, you can always start without him."

* The perfume brand Opium caused controversy with a poster showing a naked Sophie Dahl, photographed in a provocative pose by Stephen Meisel. The Advertising Standards Authority ordered Yves Saint Laurent to remove the posters, claiming that they have "clearly caused serious and widespread offence".

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