French knickers in a twist over 'sexist' ads

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The Independent Online

Six months after French advertisers agreed to tone down their systematic use of women as sex objects, they have seized on a new theme: men as sex-objects. Posters have been going up all over Paris this week showing a handsome, young man holding a pair of women's knickers to his nose. The caption says, in English, "Remember me".

Six months after French advertisers agreed to tone down their systematic use of women as sex objects, they have seized on a new theme: men as sex-objects. Posters have been going up all over Paris this week showing a handsome, young man holding a pair of women's knickers to his nose. The caption says, in English, "Remember me".

The poster was declared unacceptable by France's advertising watchdog and refused by two poster companies but the advertiser, the women's underwear firm Lejaby, decided to go ahead regardless.

Other posters in France include an advertisement for Alfa Romeo cars with a naked young man in the pose of Rodin's "thinker", sitting half in the driver's seat and half outside. There is also a poster campaign for the Hom underwear company, with close-ups of lightly clad male buttocks and the slogan Assurez vos arrières! (Watch your rear).

The French advertising industry, which had long proceeded on the assumption that tits and bums could sell everything, agreed a tougher code of conduct last year to ensure "respect for the dignity of women". It followed years of complaints from feminist and family groups and a row which forced the withdrawal of two especially raunchy, poster campaigns for women's "strings" or thongs.

Lejaby and its advertising agency, Emulsion, say their knicker-sniffing posters - part of a "storyline campaign" which will develop over the next few weeks - are a contribution to a more intelligent, humorous approach to advertising.

"People are sick of naked women ... we wanted to break with the stereotypes of porno-chic and abandon the concept of the woman sex object," Bruno de Lalande, Lejaby's marketing director, said.

The company says its posters reflect the "playful approach to love affairs" of contemporary men and women. The campaign will eventually feature three handsome, young men who have a close relationship with their girlfriends' underwear. Alessandro, "the seducer seduced", Boris, the "romantic adventurer" and Alex, "the artistic dreamer", are "three men who dream endlessly of the women they love", the Lejaby website says.

The French industry's self-policing watchdog, the Association des Publicitaires pour une Publicité Responsable (Association of Advertisers for Responsible Advertising), did not see things that way. It ruled that the posters breached the industry's guidelines, which ban any image which "contravenes human dignity and decency".

The association's opinion is advisory. Lejaby decided to continue its campaign but two of France' largest poster companies, Metrobus and JC Decaux, refused to accept the first posters, showing the sultry "Alessandro" holding a pair of red knickers to his nose.

Some French advertising executives are alarmed by the latest twist in their advertising wars. "In the past week, men have been given a taste of what women have had to put up with for years," Christophe Lafarge, of the Enjoy agency, said.

Others say the campaigns using men as sex objects reflect a new category of consumers identified by the European advertising industry. They are the "metrosexuals", heterosexual men who have the same love of fashion and the same "acceptance of the feminine side of their nature" as homosexual men. The great icon for this newly discovered tribe is David Beckham.

The row about the "Remember me", sniffing posters is unlikely to disturb Lejaby. The controversy last year about a Sloggi poster for thongs forced the company to abandon its campaign, but not before sales had tripled.

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