Creative: Critique By Barbara Lippert

Point Taken
Agency: D&AD
Creative Team: Alexandra Taylor, Adam Kean/Saatchi & Saatchi, London
Designers: Mark Farrow, Jon Jeffrey/Farrow Design
Photographer: Rankin Prada
Agency: In-House
Photographer: Norbert Schoerner
The “Better Than Sexž Metaphor Is Overused; It’s Advertising Viagra
Freud Was Wrong: There Is No Pencil Envy.
Aaah, the big upward- thrusting yellow pencil. Need I mention that along with the cigar and the skyscraper, it has become the leading worker-bee metaphor of male anatomy, the tumescent yin to the receptive yang of the peaches-and-headlights school of female allegorical imagery.
And great metaphors they happen to be–I love anything that visually links the organic and the mechanical. It’s visually arresting, retinally transformative; it makes us see everyday objects in a more human way. And I love the tight cropping of photographed objects in ads. It transforms them into monumental icons: The extreme close-up forces us to look.
Sometimes, though, a close look is not all it’s cracked up to be. Take these D&AD ads. The big yellow pencil happens to be the actual D&AD award. So I guess it was only a matter of time before the organization cut to the chase, stuck one down a guy’s pants and called it a day, or at least a call for entries.
It’s part of a package, including the call-for-entries brochure, which uses a blue Viagra pill with a tiny D&AD pencil embedded on it. Sex and potency, sex and creative potency, the “better than sex” metaphor is overused, surely. As a visual image, Viagra probably works best, although it has already become a clichƒ. (Actually, the British seem to have a more uninhibitedly worshipful relationship with Viagra than we in the U.S. do. The biggest line to cross the Atlantic lately is “pure theatrical Viagra,” which is what a British theater critic dubbed Nicole Kidman’s nude performance in The Blue Room. Any of our critics, while looking with binoculars, would have been embarrassed to say that.
The pencil in the Speedos (and that’s all it is) is good for a quick laugh, and given that it’s such a fat, erect pencil, so in our faces, we get it. But what’s troubling here is the model. Had they really blown up the bad-taste bit, the creators could have made him hairy in a gross-out, Austin Powers kind of way. Or they could have used a deeply tanned, muscle-bound, Chippendale’s guy.
But what makes this more shocking is that it’s the body of an average Joe. It’s home pornography. Do we really want to be so visually intimate with some guy’s delicate thigh hairs and above-the-knee birthmark?
Yet the pencil in the pants is pure advertising Viagra compared to the follow-up ad, a medicine cabinet filled with designer vibrators and (there’s no other way to put it delicately) dildoes. The medicine cabinet itself is a great metaphor.
Obviously the creators, a hot male/female team of Silver Pencil-grabbers from Saatchi & Saatchi, wanted to give women equal time.
Starting with a box is always good–the inside of a cabinet or a purse can reveal a lot. But as a woman, I find the contents off-putting and inauthentic–too aggressive, too lifestyles of the transgendered. Freud was wrong: There is no pencil envy.
Both D&AD ads have run internationally. The organizers were a little worried about reaction in Asia and other parts of the world, but the only complaints, reportedly, have come from Adweek readers in the U.S. “We assumed America was more broad-minded and the English were more buttoned-up,” D&AD marketing manager Marcelle Johnson told me. “In England, the reaction has been very positive.”
Aside from the U.S. being more puritanical on the right and PC on the left, there’s something else going on here the Brits didn’t consider. Maybe I am reading too much into this whole impeachment thing, now that our hangdog president limps around, trying to stay in office. But I can’t look at him lately–it’s like seeing a naked penis. We’re so burned out with semen stains and Monicagate that we just can’t compartmentalize the jokes anymore.
The climate here is not cold and rigid; it’s self-protective and layered. Never mind the Speedos and Viagra. In our pre-jolly season, what reverberates is St.-John’s- wort and performance fleece.
And in revealing one’s skivvies, not every brand has the luxury of doing the meta-advertising Prada promotes. But in a culture blanketed with full frontal Wonderbra ads, it sure is nice to see a spread like this: delicate, subtle, about the line, the tailoring, the invisible workmanship, the aristocratic bones of the clothing, the room, and the model, Angela Lindvall. Her teeny, languid, see-through underpinnings, with the button in the back of the pants, looks handmade, like something from the 19th century. She’s touching her own skin in a very natural way.
I know everyone wants to see supermodels in the buff, so no one is going to argue about seeing Tyra Banks in her underwear–no matter what she’s hawking. But I like this backward, dreamy approach to selling undergarments.
Sometimes it doesn’t take a full-frontal blunt instrument to get the point.