Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Culture: The Oldest Sales Technique

TORONTO, ONTARIO - While the comparative sexual repression in North American culture is well-documented, a billboard that I saw in Cologne, Germany while I was living in the area briefly in 1998 still surprised me. An advertisement for local radio station RPR-1 (Rheinland-Pfalz Radio One)'s morning show displayed a table with breakfast food laid out, with a pair of breasts in the background, key parts of that anatomy barely hidden by a tall glass of milk and a mug of coffee. (Don't think about that too much.) The campaign, seen throughout the area, definitely attracted my attention the first time I saw it, though I was already a RPR-1 listener and I doubt I would have listened to the station as a result of the ad had I not already been one.

As a result of that experience, I was not surprised by the story running through the European media recently of a billboard campaign in the Berlin, Germany area. Christian Democrat (Canadians think "Conservative" and US residents think "Republican") candidate Vera Lengsfeld features her own cleavage and even more revealing cleavage of Chancellor Angela Merkel in the ad, with the slogan, "We have more to offer."

In an interview with the BBC (about eight minutes into the program), Lengsfeld was quite straight-forward about why she had come up with this advertising campaign. Her campaign felt that she needed to attract attention in order to get people to pay attention to her party's policies. Considering that she is running in a district considered quite left-wing, this supposition is probably right--whether she chose an appropriate way to get it or not is another matter. Indeed, in the interview, Lengsfeld wanted to change the subject to Christian Democrat (CDU) policies and the interviewer kept asking about the social implications of the ad.

While my initial reaction to the ad was that it was sexist and inappropriate, after hearing Lengsfeld speak, I'm a bit more sympathetic. Neither Lengfeld nor Merkel is young or resembling a model, so it's not like the ad is actually sexy (at least in my opinion). Making the point that the CDU has female candidates strikes me as a legitimate point to make, even if how it is made obvious that they are female candidates is decidedly low-brow. It clearly has had its desired impact as not only are people around Berlin talking about it, but I'm writing about it on another continent. Furthermore, it's hard to deny that the ad is genuinely funny. (Anyone who doesn't consider completely absurd the idea of Christian Democrat Angela Merkel as a sex object lives in a different state-of-mind than I do.)

It is said that using sexuality is the oldest sales technique in the world, and it has remained in use because it works. The fact that this idea is still controversial in 2009 should be the story here--not Vera Lengsfeld.

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