Being Mr. Clean

As seniors at Tenafly High School back in the day, we spent our Friday nights driving up Route 9W in a convoy of BMW 2002s our daddies bought for us (except for me, who protested my peers’ sheeplike choice of car by forcing my father to buy me a powder-blue VW Fastback). We were hell-bent for New York state, where we could buy hooch, which at 18 was forbidden to us in New Jersey but not in the Empire State, which didn’t want us to have to wait until 21 to legally throw up in the gutter on a weekend night.

As it happened, Friday was also the day when we were usually shepherded into the auditorium at school by our pot-smoking teachers to be lectured on the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.

I loved Fridays. They were a glorious weekly example of our adorably twisted culture. A shining example of a puritan society that publicly excoriated obscenity, substance abuse, sex and all the other things that make life worth living while privately wallowing in all of them.

For a couple of decades there, we lost that. People and advertisers did what they wanted. The networks started showing people actually, you know, unclothed. Doing the nasty. Getting faded. Making fun of authority.

Except for our bad clothes and poor taste in wine, America seemed almost—I’m going to curse here—French.

And advertising went along.

We asked where it would end, and now we know. It ends here. Breasts are bad. Curse words suck. Don’t have sex with anybody. And no more animal flatulence, either. Welcome to The New Decency.

Now the pressing communications issue of the day is: How does one market without the help of nudity, obscenity or fun of any kind?

Well, the easy answer is put all your money into cable. But I have some other suggestions for advertisers and their agencies:

• Make sure there are two beds in every couple’s bedroom, unless one of the spouses is that mannequin from the Axe ads.

• Insist that the creative brief for network-broadcast spots never include irony, animals or human beings.

• Refuse to handle videogames, beer, jeans, fragrances or any other accounts that target people under 30.

• Say no to any endorsements from the Queer Eye guys.

• Take the garters off the Subservient Chicken. I mean now, people.

Ad crafters must reacquaint themselves with the double entendre, a communicator’s best friend in a New Decency marketplace. (To get around the Hays Code, there was a scene in a John Ford Western in which John Wayne asks Wallace Beery to find a native to help them scout the territory. Beery shows up with an American Indian babe in a blanket. “What’s this?” Wayne asks. “The lay of the land,” Beery replies.)

Or just tweak the language. Take a cue from Lenny Bruce, who once told his audience that if it was offended by his use of the phrase “tits and ass,” he’d use “tuchases and nay-nays” instead.

See, it can be done. You can still sell without license to be licentious. Even in New Jersey.



For the record: BBDO in New York, not Ogilvy & Mather, created Mountain Dew’s “Seagal” spot [Best Spots, April 26]. SBI.Razorfish did not lose the Perkins & Will and Wrigley accounts; those were pieces of business they pitched in 2003 but did not win. [IQ Report Cards, April 19].