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Real Women or Bust

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Girl Talk," a new integrated campaign from Playtex, skillfully picks up on the breast-centric vibe in the culture right now. And given that it's running on a special YouTube channel, it gives new meaning to "boob tube."

In this case, humor is good. A bra that comes in a box needs all the modernizing strategy it can get. Especially since Playtex has historically represented the "Cross your heart" dowdy side of the swinging '60s and braless '70s, with ads that famously featured Jane Russell speaking to "full-figured gals."

The two new TV spots and print ads are also featured on a Playtex microsite, playtexfits.com. They're not earth-shattering, but they do have personality and look contemporary, in a Dove women-in-their-underwear sort of way. "I have this recurring nightmare about being poked with a wire over and over and over again,'' one woman says in the Playtex Secrets ad, and legions of underwired women feel her pain. Except that the words, which came directly out of the mouths of Playtex customers taking part in focus groups, are spoken by unknown models and actresses. These women have outsized personalities to match their cup sizes, and express universal bra truths: "Finding a really good man is like finding a really good bra,'' another says. "Gravity is no longer my enemy,'' a stacked redhead says, while wearing dangly purple earrings and borrowing her cadence from Carrie Bradshaw. "But brownies are.''

Brownies and breasts are rarely linked together in the same train of thought, so that's an attention getter. But what no doubt will be most talked about are the "outtake'' videos on the site—"What you didn't see on television!'' it says—in which the women respond to such questions as, "What do you call them?''

"Boobs, knockers," "puppies'' and "my girls'' are some of the answers. One woman utters the amazingly retro and slightly creepy word "titties." Obviously, this is where the Net allows even the most conservative brands unheard-of freedom of expression. On TV, even as recently as the late '80s, manufacturers weren't allowed to show a woman wearing a bra on her bare torso. When Russell promoted Playtex in the '70s and early '80s, she wore the bra hanging off her arm, like a shopping basket, or it was put on a mannequin or over a turtleneck.

But back to those "puppies.'' One woman, the voice of reason, says, "It's a guy thing to name parts of your body.''

She's right, but lately, for better or worse, nicknaming one's assets has indeed become a chick thing. With so much cleavage out there, people are constantly talking about "the girls.'' On TLC's What Not to Wear the stylists often call them that, and prefer them "locked and loaded'' beneath a trendy top or jacket.

The positive spin is that it represents women owning their bodies and sexuality, kidding about the power of their "twins" before men can. They take the language that formerly was used in a disparaging way, or to objectify them, and go on the offense by reclaiming it (like Dave Chappelle using the "n'' word). Although it's a little discomforting to think that anyone fought for the right to say "titties."

And by the way, the naming thing might have gotten the most mileage a few years ago, when Maxim reported that Jennifer Love Hewitt, now a Hanes bra model, calls her celebrated set Thelma and Louise.

She later said, "I was kidding. Now I read it everywhere and people getting autographs will ask, 'How are Thelma and Louise?' I'm, like, 'Oh, my God, people, it was a joke.'"

Also in the jokes department, another outtake video asks, "What do you use your bra for?'' In one cut from the 18 Hour bra TV ad, a woman calls her friend's bra her "second purse,'' and her friend generously pulls a cell phone from her capacious cleavage to prove it. This same friend, a great comic presence, keeps pulling stuff from her top, like clowns exiting a Volkswagen. First, there's a contact lens case, and then a cell phone or two, and finally, in another "bloopers'' video, she pulls out a harmonica. It's entertaining, but how is that a blooper? Didn't someone on the set give her the harmonica?

Obviously, even with the "real women'' in the Dove ads, there's a lot of unreality involved. But it gets doubly confusing if these women are professionals who are acting and modeling, when the whole point of the campaign is to talk to women and reflect their concerns in an authentic way.

The tagline "Who knows you like we do?'' sets the right tone—candid and friendly, while cleverly suggesting the brand's long heritage.

But there's a problem with having it both ways: models delivering "real people'' lines. In the interest of truth and intimacy, there's always the possibility of putting an actual customer in front of the camera. If she really loves her Playtex bra but doesn't feel like parading Thelma and Louise in front of the whole world, she can always make believe she's Jane Russell and hang it off her arm.