The Breast of Advertising: As a Marketing Ploy, the Bust Is as Controversial as It Is Ubiquitous | Adweek The Breast of Advertising: As a Marketing Ploy, the Bust Is as Controversial as It Is Ubiquitous | Adweek
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The Breast of Advertising

From Hooters to the cover of 'Time,' does the strategy sell or repel?
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Scientific studies have documented how breasts­­—and their size—can affect male behavior, according to Florence Williams, author of Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History. In a study recently reported in the French journal Perceptual and Motor Skills, sociologists arranged for a woman to hitchhike wearing augmented bras that inflated her natural A cups into B, and then C cups. Male drivers were about 60 percent more likely to give a lift to the woman with a C cup than an A cup. Meanwhile, breast size hardly affected women drivers’ decision to stop. Williams refers to another recent study from the Archives of Sexual Behavior suggesting that breasts attract eyeballs, literally. “The male pupil in the eye looks at a woman’s breast within 200 milliseconds,” she says. “It’s the first place they look, and the eyes linger longer on the breast region” than other body parts.

Attracting eyeballs is one thing, but the presence of breasts doesn’t necessarily mean a consumer will have a positive view of a product, or buy it. In his famous 1983 book Ogilvy on Advertising, David Ogilvy advised marketers to handle breasts delicately: “Some copywriters... try to inveigle [consumers] into their ads with pictures of babies, beagles and bosoms. This is a mistake. A buyer of flexible pipe for offshore oil rigs is more interested in pipe than anything else in the world. So play it straight.”

The Ogilvy rule is still important today, says Ben Judd, associate business dean at the University of New Haven, who has conducted several studies pertaining to sexual imagery in ads. Judd calls naked come-ons in campaigns “a complete waste of time” since consumers tend to ogle the breasts, then forget the product. “The more nudity you show, the lower recall of the brand,” he says. For example, a 2001 study sponsored by American Demographics found that 61 percent of respondents who viewed sexualized ads were less likely to buy.

More recently, marketing professors at the University of Wisconsin found that sexy Super Bowl ads from 1989 to 2012 were 10 percent less likeable than other spots. Yet while none of Nielsen’s 10 best-liked 2012 Super Bowl ads were of a sexual nature, one bare-babed spot did rank among the 10 most-recalled ads: the much-buzzed-about spot for Go Daddy featuring Danica Patrick and Jillian Michaels brushing body paint on a near-naked model.

To Chuck Schroeder, partner at marketing firm Senior Creative People, relevance matters most. If brandishing breasts doesn’t flow organically, he says, the message goes wildly off course. A self-described “beer guy” who previously worked on the Strohs and Miller Lite accounts and briefly co-owned Saratoga Lager, Schroeder sees beer and breasts as a particularly stale combination. He recalls a famed spot from 1991, created by Hal Riney & Partners, that fell flat. “Remember the Swedish Olympic Bikini Team? Who did that?” asks Schroeder. “It was typical frat boy beer advertising with big-boobed models in bikinis. I think you remember the boobs.”

That controversial spot for Old Milwaukee, in fact, attempted to rejuvenate a flagging brand the consumer likely viewed as “my father’s beer,” recalls Patrick Scullin, now creative director of Ames Scullin O'Haire in Atlanta, who created the campaign at Hal Riney.  The spots featured buxom blondes parachuting in to surprise buddies fishing or camping. The slogan was “It Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This.” The campaign boosted sales but led to a sexual harassment lawsuit by female workers at Stroh Brewery Co., which at the time owned Old Milwaukee. The company settled out of court and retired the bikini team.

Of course, that didn’t stop brewers from churning out copycat ads ever since. A 2007 Miller Lite ad, for instance, featured a scantily clad Pamela Anderson in a pillow fight. And in a Bud Light Lime Web-only ad (labeled “pornohol” by watchdog group Alcohol Justice), topless UFC model Arianny Celeste cavorted on piles of loose limes as she squeezed the citrus and declared how thirsty she was.

When asked to comment, Paul Chibe, U.S. CMO of Anheuser-Busch InBev, gently chided his company over the ad, which was created before he came aboard last year. “I don’t think it’s ‘pornohol,’ but it’s certainly not in the direction I would have gone in,” he says.

Other companies, meanwhile, are sticking to the male-centric approach—among them, Go Daddy, with its explicit Super Bowl spots. When the Internet company’s founder and CEO Bob Parsons announced that he had purchased time during the 2005 Super Bowl, some bloggers argued that it was a waste of money. Ignoring the critics, Parsons bought a second spot in the same broadcast. The company’s first commercial, created by the Ad Store, lampooned Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” the year before, featuring a former porn actress in a slinky tank top emblazoned with the Go Daddy logo. As she testifies before a faux congressional committee—whoops!—one of her spaghetti straps pops off and her breasts nearly spill out. Cut to an elderly committee codger, wheezing into his oxygen mask.

Illustration: Lincoln Agnew, Getty Images

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