• Rick Julian

Brand Porn?

Today, the Huffington Post ran an article whose inline headline raised the question “Is This Ad Campaign ‘Soft Core Porn That Has Nothing To Do With Tennis’?”

Here’s one of the TV spots from the Women’s Tennis Association’s new “Strong is Beautiful” branding campaign that’s referenced:


The HuffPo article mentioned a critique of the spots by Nicole M. LaVoi, Ph.D. who authored the headline’s question. The core of her critique is that the WTA was inappropriately sexualizing these women by, e.g., presenting them in unrealistic clothes, applying slo-mo, and, in the WTA’s print ads, using gold dust makeup “[that] has nothing to do with tennis.” — basically (in her mind) exercising creative and sexually exploitative license they wouldn’t were men featured in the brand advertising.

As the lead creative executive in a branding agency who has on many occasions used beautiful women (and men) in print ads and film to sell everything from bricks to baggage conveyor systems, I’d like to weigh in on the debate.

1. Humans are sexual creatures. We enjoy looking at beautiful specimens of our species–we find them stimulating, and, on average, prefer looking at attractive men and women vs. less attractive ones. This should come as news to no one.

2. When branding agencies create visual communications, our aim is to be as effective as possible (within our corporate code of ethics) in serving our clients’ goals, so we employ the most effective tools and techniques at our disposal in this pursuit. Toward this end, one of the pillars of our agency’s creative philosophies is: “Beauty is the killer app.”, and we use not only beautiful (sometimes sexy) women and men, but beauty in all her guises: beautiful product design, logos, writing, fonts, graphics . . . you name it–beauty sells, as well as possessing its own intrinsic aesthetic rewards for its creators and our audiences. Personally and collectively, humans love making and beholding beautiful things.

3. Shakespeare said. “All world is a stage. And all the men and women merely players” I’ll extend this truism to brand marketing and advertising: “All  the marketplace is a stage. And all the brands merely players.” Just as actors don costumes and makeup to assume their characters, so do brands apply their own flattering appurtenances in order to deliver their best performances.

Bottom line, Raphael Nadal shows off his abs during a match by wiping his face with the bottom of his shirt because he knows it turns his female fans on. And it does. So if a marketing campaign for his endorsement brands exploited his abs, his “guns” . . . his beauty, would it be soft core porn? No, it would be a brand leveraging beauty to its greatest advantage.

Case in point, this comparison between what a real Whopper looks like, and what a brand stylized Whopper looks like. You and I have never been handed a Whopper this beautiful at a Burger King–it is an idealized representation of the Whopper.

Any agency that even recommended featuring the photograph on the right would immediately  be fired by the client. Why? Because we were being too authentic? Weren’t keeping it real enough? No, our clients don’t necessarily want real, they want sales, and assembling all the components of an actual Whopper to their highest visual potential basically kick’s “real’s” behind.

And I’m as comfortable with the ethics of that approach as I am with the ethics of the “Strong is Beautiful” campaign.

(continue reading beneath the burger porn)


All the branding world is a stage."


Now, American Apparel . . .  that’s another Oprah.

What do you think?

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