Creatives, and some clients, love to push boundaries and defy tradition. Safe is boring. Good is not good enough. PG-13 is a snooze. And that's why, for decades now, advertising has continued to nudge the line ever more towards the sexually-charged, action-packed, violence-inspired ads that we often see on TV and in movie theaters.
A recent example of something that really does push the limits (or flat out explodes them) is MTV's latest ad for The Valleys.
What is "The Valleys" exactly?
Well, in true MTV reality show tradition, it's a vacuous UK show about a bunch of young men and women who do everything and anything to enjoy life. Sex. Drinking. Fighting. Sex. Smoking. Drinking. Sex. The usual.
And as there is a continued demand for this kind of pointless titillation and empty-headed nonsense (Snookie and Jwoww have their own show!), it seems only reasonable to push it with an ad that explains it all in graphic detail.
Well, there are sexy women licking men's nipples. There's French kissing. Groping. Lapdancing. Motorboating a girl's breasts. A girl spreading the cheeks of her almost-naked behind. Girls riding a stuffed sheep.
It's the kind of ad "Girls Gone Wild" would be too scared to put together. But this one, aimed at the UK audience, is way raunchier than anything likely to been over here in the states.
Now, as a Brit myself, I remember quite clearly the kind of ads that were allowed on the UK airwaves. Something called The Watershed was introduced a long time ago, and nothing racy or offensive could be shown before a certain time. It used to be 8pm.
This ad, which you can see here (you'll need to sign in as it is considered adult material - with very good reason) is being shown only after 7:30pm.
I have children. 3 of them. Two girls, 8 and 6, and a baby boy. The girls go to bed at 8pm. If this were to air when they could see it, I'd be appalled. And they'd no doubt have a lot of questions.
What Can Be Done About Racy Advertising?
Of course, it's not intended for children. And the content is directly related to the show. It is the show. It's not false advertising, if anything it's about as truthful as any ad I've seen in a long time. So the question is, how does the advertising industry create ads like this and make sure they get seen by the right people?
The first, and most obvious solution, is to add several hours to the viewing time. At least 9:30pm. Most adults are still up, the kids are in bed, and the freedom to be raunchy is greater.
There's also the idea of the tease and reveal.
Show clips that tease to the material, and then ask adults to view the uncensored ad online. GoDaddy has been doing that for years, although their ads have absolutely nothing to do with the product.
And then there's the other solution. Do ads that are little more clever, and a little less gratuitous.
Another British institution, Club 18-30, has done great ads over the years that thrived on innuendo and misdirection.
Print ads used lines like "Gobble Gobble," "Wake up at the crack of Dawn," "Beaver España," and "Moisten flaps and bend over" (a marvelously cheeky piece of direct mail that went right over the kids' heads).
I'm no prude, by any means. But we can't have ads for "The Valleys" being this racy and going out at such an early time. It's just asking for trouble.