Clad only in a towel, a young woman in a locker room yaps away loudly on her cellphone. She’s talking to her mother about a problem so intimate it bears no name. But, it’s “not contagious,” she assures the mom. “No,” she adds. “That smell means it’s healing!”
But certainly, the creatives at BBH New York, who produced the spot for Virgin Mobile, know contagious when they smell it. Boy, we’ve come a long way in commercials since mother and daughter had to chat politely on the living room sofa about “freshness.”
Is there anything better than overhearing a conversation about what sounds like a still-festering genital infection?
One of three new spots for Virgin Mobile, this one is the most offensive and therefore, will get the most attention: Critics and bloggers like me can feed right into the outrage while hoping to create some of their own just by writing about the subject matter.
For her part, Ms. Mysterious Lesion says she’s just “waiting for the top layer to die.” I’m also waiting for this kind of strategy to die, which is to make the most outrageous spot you can, whether it turns off your target audience or not, because you are outspent by a gazillion competitors, and any exposure is good exposure.
Well, that’s not the case for herpes, or always for scrappy challenger brands.
The visual device that the spots all share is a set of disconnected lips, (ripped right off the talker’s face) so that she can yammer on about the most un-public subjects while her body is free to roam.
“Never stop talking,” a male announcer says. “With totally unlimited calling. Get the new LG Rumor 2 only from Virgin Mobile with no annual contract.”
So the connection is that you can talk all you want, encouraging the people around you to break your phone and murder you. Really, at first I thought the egregious behavior would at least lead to a PSA for cell phone etiquette.
But that’s nowhere near as bad as that snap-off female body part. First of all, this is not the first time that BBH has created a disembodied human part that looks vaguely genital. If you recall, the agency came up with a stumpy, little, hairy armpit on legs for Axe body spray. It was really disgusting looking, but the joke was that it smelled good.
Whereas this particular disembodied orifice just plays into every misogynist cliché there is. On the most superficial level, it’s saying that women never shut their traps. (“Stifle, Edith!” as Archie Bunker used to say.) Also, that what they talk about is ridiculous. (Also, what seems totally off, if the ad is aimed at young women, is that they tend to text much more than they speak.)
But the dehumanizing removal of the body part makes stuff that’s normally called “sexist” (for example, showing women in their underwear, or even men leering at them) seem innocent and tender by comparison. At least it makes women seem desirable.
Here, the writers really redefine “dirty mouth” and it’s on another planet from the funny Orbit work. At bottom, (aside from the fact that it’s cleverly written) making women seem diseased is really ugly. Why would any woman want to buy into that? I’m certainly not putting my money where that mouth is.