Thompson River University, one of the major universities here in British Columbia, ran an ad campaign on BC public transit a few months ago to promote their Open Learning distance education programmes for busy adults. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any google images of any of them but I remember a couple that I have seen on the train. One of them said, “18% did it after the kids were asleep” and another one said, “23% did it on the couch.” These slogans are meant to show the flexibility of the distance education programme, where busy adults can study whenever and wherever they want to study, but of course there are other sexual allusions, which are pretty obvious.
As someone who has taken distance ed courses through TRU, I can attest to how exceptional the Open Learning programme is; I’ve had great tutors (all experts in their fields), and have enjoyed the courses I’ve taken there in the past. Not having to travel to campus, and having all my course materials sent to my doorstep (including books I requested from the library) made my Distance Education experience really enjoyable. Had I been a parent of young children who wanted to further my education, I bet I’d be singing their praises even more.
What really perplexes me, however, is the fact that a place of academia and scholarship would even consider using sexual innuendo to attract new students. I’m not saying that the ads should be written in ancient Greek, but I think TRU should have at least considered slogans that don’t “cheapen” its image.
Having just watched a great production of The Merry Wives of Windsor earlier this month at Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach festival, I can say that in the right place, double entendres are fine. Sir John Falstaff is a prime example of how well Shakespeare was able to use innuendo so well, and appropriately, in his plays, especially his comedies.
Recently, I’ve seen television commercials for kitchens and laundry detergent (!!!) being sexualized. I can’t help but wonder what the implications of this trend are. It’s not just for perfume, cars and jeans anymore; are we going to see sexualized ads for Pringles? Starbucks coffee? BIC pens? Is there no other way to sell things these days? I do hear the argument all the time that sex sells, and I guess it does, but I just feel as though people have decided not to be as creative anymore. It’s truly a shame that we have to see ads like the one below (one of my favourite childhood drinks).
So what’s wrong with using sex/innuendo in advertising? For one, depending on what is being sold, the product may not be taken seriously. It’s definitely a chance of offending your target audience, especially if they are more conservative. Also, if a brand feels as though the only way they can sell their product to the general public is by using innuendo, I’d go as far as to say that the intended audience may feel upset at this condescending approach.