Sunday, October 9, 2011

Billboards Can't Be Switched Off - But Does It Matter Relatively?

*** This article is featured on BlogTV Star Blog ***

Amid the storm of controversy over the scantily-clad bloke with the abs to die for, plastered on the front of the Abercrombie & Fitch storefront in Orchard Road, one cannot help but wonder what exactly the problem is.

Some have told me that as a westerner I wouldn't understand, because in Asia people are just much more conservative and not ready for such controversial images being displayed in public.

Personally, I just don't buy that at all! You see, in Australia for example, billboards that might be 'on the edge' of acceptable tend to create just as much hype in the media - although it's usually one small pocket of society that are the most vocal.

Last year, I wrote an article about the Most Controversial Ads Down Under in 2009 and posed the question - are Aussies becoming too prudish? In this instance, the most complained about ad in 2009 was a billboard advertisement for "GASP denim" – referred to as 'Case number 450/09 – (Billboard - displayed only in Victoria) Images of topless females dressed in jeans'. The issue raised was "Discrimination or vilification, Section 2.1 AANA Code of Ethics". The Australian Advertising Standards Bureau decision was to dismiss the case. Interestingly enough, this 'most controversial' ad received a total of only around 250 complaints.

Again in 2010, the focus is on Billboard advertising and this time around,
a parliamentary committee acknowledged that "billboards and the like are a unique form of advertising, particularly given they can't be ignored, or switched off". The committee has recommended a number of changes for the industry focussing on inappropriate language or images that sexually objectify women.

In the Abercrombie & Fitch case in Orchard Rd, perhaps now we are getting somewhere close to the true reason behind the furore. It definitely cannot be the images being displayed publically that is the sole problem - all one needs to do, is walk through any of the major retail or brand malls in Singapore and you will face a barrage of near naked women advertising all kinds of fashion (and even food)... and showing much, much more skin than the billboard in question. These kind of images can also be seen in the heartlands shopping centres.

So, if people are worried about one, why not the other - if the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) say the ad "breaches the advertising code of decency" and have called for its suspension, why not also suspend every single image of men and women not fully clothed in every retail outlet across the island?

Clearly, it must be the sheer size of the billboard - I think it's 4-stories high right? Like the Aussie parliamentary committee suggested - something so large in the heart of downtown is quite a unique way of advertising and 'cannot be switched off'.

For the American retail giant, A&F must be laughing all the way to the bank - back in 2000, shoe maker Windsor Smith got in trouble for a very racy billboard showing a lingerie-clad sexy blonde woman sitting with her head suggestively close to a man's 'nether regions' - later, Windsor Smith admitted that the storm of controversy that followed was the best advertising the company could have ever hoped for and was worth an estimated $4 million!!

So what do you think?

Is the billboard relatively that bad - compared to the much more explicit images in retail stores across the country? Or is it as bad as the workers walking the street in Geylang? Hmmm... I wonder.

Let's face it - SEX SELLS! - Companies like Kelvin Klein and Durex have been doing this for years.

On an aside, it's not just the fashion brands that get themsleves into hot water when it comes to billboard advertising. One of the biggest issues is often the 'subliminal' messages. For example check out this ad with a picture of knees and toes:

Fast food outlets are not immune, as can be seen by this McDonalds advert.

But quite frankly, I would much rather have my attention distracted while driving by looking at billboard superstar, Jessica Gomes (below) who is of mixed race, born to a Singaporean mother and a Portuguese father, than have to be exposed to Burger King's 'Beefcake' Piers Morgan - Eeeewwww... I think I'd defintely smash the car and I would be suing someone for such an inappropriate image that I "cannot switch" off - actually, I doubt that I would ever again be able to remove the image from my brain.

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