Leading Article: Far removed from bimbos on bonnets

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The Independent Online
NO ONE can tell for sure what proportion of sales of a new product is generated by advertising. Analysis is easier when the product has been on the market for a year or more: then a campaign in a particular region can produce a detectable jump in sales. However, it can safely be said that the television commercial for Vauxhall's new Corsa model, to be shown here and in Germany for the first time tomorrow, has already whetted public interest - if not in the car, at least in the advertisement.

It is already threatening to enter the history books as the most expensive commercial made for British television, although, according to the advertising agency responsible, the reported cost of pounds 10m is a considerable overestimate. So, it seems, is the pounds 500,000 that is allegedly being paid to each of the five supermodels taking part - Britain's own Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss, with Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington and Tatjana Patitz.

The advertisement has also been criticised for allegedly demeaning women. Since women are a prime target, it seems unlikely that it does so. Certainly its theme strains credulity and scarcely flatters the intelligence of the supermodels: in five successive cameos, each is shown feeling upstaged by the car's superior looks and, in at least one instance, meting out suitable punishment to the offending object. However, the tone is tongue-in-cheek - in this case, very expensive tongues and cheeks.

In an earlier, less sophisticated era of car advertising, pretty and lightly dressed girls were frequently used to reinforce the association in male minds between cars and virility and to give some more or less pedestrian vehicle a spurious whiff of glamour. Nowadays such Freudian crudity would offend women and be hardly flattering to men.

The emphasis now is often on the independence of women: hence the Volkswagen advertisement showing a radiant, bride-like woman leaving a reception in a Golf adorned with a 'Just Divorced' sign. The supermodels used in the Corsa ad are several million pounds removed from the bimbos on bonnets of yesteryear. They are proud as well as beautiful symbols of female independence, rivalling top film stars in glamour and, if more briefly, earnings.

The most successful advertisements are often those that attempt something new. Benetton has successfully adopted shock tactics that generated huge publicity. Vauxhall's trick has been to employ not one but five supermodels. In the last analysis, such tactics can only encourage more punters into the shops or showrooms. If the product itself is disappointing, or in some key respect uncompetitive, it will not sell and the advertisement will be seen as harmless entertainment.

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