Barbara Lippert’s Critique: Short Shorts Redux

The new Nair spot replaces the mindless, but catchy, “Who wears short shorts?” jingle (and female kick line) of yesteryear with hip-hop/club music and a contemporary, booty-based dance.

We’ll get to the cultural ramifications later (which could have the thesis: From Three’s Company-era Tiny Shorts to Shaking Your Moneymaker like a Pussycat Doll: Nair’s Feminist Manifesto). But hey, the spot’s selling hair remover, so first, let’s look at the nuts and bolts of the ad components.

The brand’s new tagline is “Like never before” (which is also the name of the spot). Yup, I’d say “Like never before” really nails it for the depilatory category. On a molecular level, the laws of physics require that anything you’re doing now is “like never before.” Seriously, what does it mean? It’s so generic it’s meaningless no matter who uses it. Saturn’s line, “Like always, like never before” was doubly generic. Not to mention that the use of “like” is grammatically incorrect, which might have made a difference for the most sensitive, NPR-listening-hemp-grocery-bag-carrying-would-be-Saturn-owning demo.

But back to our spot. Certainly, it makes sense for Nair to reprise the memorable “Who wears short shorts” song and dance. For better or worse, the jingle remains part of the collective unconscious for anyone who’s watched TV in the last 30 years. Although, I wouldn’t go as far as calling it “iconic,” as the press release did. We really need to reserve icon status for something we can revere—like, say, the Jolly Green Giant.

I was told that “logistics” prevented the current agency, The Joey Company, from using the original footage, which would have been a kick to see. But it’s so well re-created at the beginning of the spot (down to the cracks in the film) that you’d never know it was made this year. It all looks and sounds so familiar, too, from the sexist wolf whistles aimed at the women on the brownstone steps, to their tight T-shirts, short shorts and semi-Farrah and Dorothy Hamill do’s.

“Tiny gym shorts,” as I like to call the original ad, first aired in 1972, via the Ted Bates agency. (Now there’s a name from the Dark Ages.) Throughout the ’70s it remained on the air in various iterations, at one point even winning a Clio for Best Cinema/Television in 1976 for agency Avrett, Free & Fischer. It continued to run through the early ’90s. No wonder everyone knows it. (And I must admit, when I was 13-ish, it was a big ritual for my friends not allowed to shave their legs to sneak out and buy Nair. As I recall, they usually burned themselves, plus, the product smelled bad, so maybe “Like never before” should specify “Gentle new smell, plus no more scabs!”)

If you aim to update the brand, it’s only natural to bring the dance into the modern age. The director is star choreographer Fatima Robinson, who composed the dance routines in Dreamgirls and for this year’s Academy Awards. She’s also worked with Gwen Stefani, Outkast and Miss “Junk in the Trunk” herself, Fergie (and the Black Eye Peas).

Clad in fashionable minidresses and high heels (one has short shorts), the Nair women dance together and individually. It’s unfortunate that the dancer in the black halter dress (shirt?) has to share her solo with a diagram of a thick, sprouting black hair. In a box to her left, we see the giant follicle being dissolved from below the surface as she dances, which is kind of gross.

The idea of “new” definitely comes through. But by current hip-hop standards, the clothing, lyrics and even pelvic tilts are tame. Ditto by comparison with Fergie’s song, “My Humps.” (Sample lyrics: “All that junk inside that trunk? I’m a get, get, get, get, you drunk, get you love drunk off my hump.”)

Maybe I’m just having a reactionary moment, but what bugs me is that the dancing reminds me of the Pussycat Dolls, whose ethos is not exactly sisterhood is powerful, as illustrated in their hit song, “Don’t Cha” (“Don’t you wish your girlfriend was a freak like me”). Their reality show wrapped up this week by choosing Asia as their newest pole dancer, er, I mean member. The cat fights on that show made America’s Next Top Model look like Upstairs Downstairs. And by saying that the Nair dance brings new “power and energy” to the brand, per the press release, it raises the question of what constitutes ho-dom and power—because in the Girls Gone Wild contemporary, soft-porn sub-culture, it’s often hard to tell. It’s also hard to see how such moves are empowering.

At first, I thought they should just have played with the footage from the short-shorts era. Regardless, the spot gets Nair back on the radar and will probably motivate 10-year-olds to sneak into WalGreens and buy it. So whether it’s featuring the hot legs express or a stop at junk-in-the-trunk junction, some things never change.