Young Ad Skeptics

Bright colors and skin are exactly what young people want

A controversial ad by retailer Tally Weijl - but does anyone notice anymore?

Pouty, come-hither glossy lips, seductively made up, half-opened eyes, and a glamorous cascade of shiny hair… No, this is not the opening scene of a movie, but an advertisement for Tally Weijl, in broad daylight, in the middle of the city. No big thing. Hordes of people are just walking by the ad, not even noticing the larger than life sex bomb in over-knee socks, panties, and a frilly shirt, spread-eagled on a pink dartboard. Talk about desensitization.

For her dissertation on "presence of the audience in marketing for the youth with print and outdoor campaigns," Sybille Maurer conducted an online survey of 212 subjects, questioning trust in advertising. The results were startling: Most younger teens find advertising boring. If it is not flamboyant and vividly colored, the tendency is to filter it out, hence the half naked lady on the bright pink background. But even when it is, the reaction is often "Ho, hum."

And it wasn’t that she didn’t ask the women. Two thirds of her subjects were female, and about 90% were: between 13 and 20.  Few were emancipated, though: Only 13% were already in the workforce, and the majority were high school or university students.

Apart from multiple choice, the questionnaire included 40 printed images to record which attracted the attention of those surveyed, and why. Surprisingly, the women rated most of the adverts higher on an effectiveness scale than the men, who tended to be more skeptical, there was a clear gender difference. The men, of course, were more interested in electronics, sports, and car-related ads. Women were more influenced by fashion ads, cosmetics, and health. Nevertheless, both sides agreed that boring or unfunny ads were not going to convince them.

So what’s going on here? Have companies simply resorted to "less is more"? Is their strategy of using scantily clad women for just about anything working? Or does this only lead to desensitization? (Not to mention an impossible body image…)

With a respectful nod to feminism, one must admit that the depiction of women as creatures to be "had" – pliant and submissive – is a mis-portrayal of interpersonal relations. Tally Weijl had another controversial campaign in which the same impossibly sexy young thing was dressed as a schoolgirl (although, what school allows uniforms like that?) with four speech bubbles saying: "Love Me," "Watch Me," "Pick Me," and "Kiss Me."

Technically, it’s a well-made ad. It’s original, colorful, catches one’s attention with the speech bubbles, and of course the gorgeous girl makes you look. It’s the type of poster young people want and expect to see. The fact that the message it gives is damaging is of no importance right now. When you’re young, you think you’re immortal.

But most people also know that even though these models are pretty and very thin, they are still being photo-shopped and airbrushed. So, one could question the reality of the body image debacle.

But the words she is "saying" tell the viewers that she is there for their disposal and is asking them to be taken possession of.

Other articles from this issue

  • Torberg in Exile

    The Kaffeehaus Literaten who lived for longing and writing leters; An exhibition at the Jewish Museum
    TVR Books | Dardis McNamee
  • “Ana Almighty”

    My little ‘Plan to Save the World’ has suddenly become the main stream policy
    News | Ana Tajder
  • Election Night 2008

    The pent-up frustration of the last eight years gets a joyous release
    Opinion | Maruska Strah, Dardis McNamee
  • Underground Session

    Indie folk jazz meets Vienna’s alternative scene
    On The Town | Michelle Falkenbach
  • All articles from this issue

    the vienna review December 2008 / January 2009