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RSS 2.0

Advertising blue

By Michael Cook - posted Wednesday, 2 January 2008

At the corner of Drummond and Grattan Streets, in Carlton, a man and a woman are “doing it” in public. There they are on a billboard advertising Durex "the world's thinnest condom". The gigantic image is like a still from the bluest of blue movies. The mask-like face of the woman is frozen and glassy-eyed. Is she being raped? Is she servicing a client?

Whatever is going on, it is raw sex, not romance, not love.

However, the industry-funded Advertising Standards Bureau has dismissed complaints about the controversial advertisement. It announced recently (December 17, 2007) that "the sexually suggestive embrace of the couple was depicted in a sensitive and responsible manner". It does not breach ethical code of Australian advertisers which says that ads "shall treat sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience".


I beg to differ.

This grotesquely offensive slur on women has been placed on an intersection where hundreds of children can goggle at it each day. This part of Carlton is one of the most kid-friendly areas in inner-city Melbourne. All day long, young mums are wheeling their infants past in strollers. Goodness knows on how many other intersections in suburban neighbourhoods Durex is advertising.

Half a block from this particular billboard is a primary school. Half a block away is a photographer specialising in children's portraits. Half a block away is the Carlton Gardens playground, crowded every weekend with children and picnicking families. One block away is Melbourne's most popular place for eating out, Lygon Street, jam-packed full of families in the evening.

And catch this. One block away is Melbourne Museum, a popular school excursion venue. Nearly every weekday in the school year dozens of tour buses crammed with primary school and high school children from all over Victoria were crawling past this billboard. You could see the boys staring curiously at it. SexEd was the first lesson of the day for these youngsters: the boys learned how to become sex-addled voyeurs and the girls learned how to be commodified as sex toys.

I resent having to walk past this pornographic advertisement on my way to work. But I'm old enough to look after myself. Children are not. They are a captive audience forced to goggle at sexual humiliation, force-fed with degrading sexual stereotypes.

There's no way that anyone can avoid seeing this billboard. You can switch off the car radio when the DJ makes smutty jokes that you don't want your children to hear. You can channel surf when there's a steamy scene on the TV. You can steer your stroller in a different direction when you see a couple canoodling in the park. But you cannot steer your innocent kids' eyes from a billboard.


Surely Durex, with all the marketing savvy that has given it a 30 per cent share of the world condom market, knows where it is placing its advertisements. In recent times Durex has shifted its marketing away from an emphasis on safe sex to "providing the confidence and freedom to enjoy better sex". Maybe exposing youngsters to billboards like this isn't such a bad marketing strategy. It builds up brand awareness among potential consumers. After all, puberty is only a couple of years away for the children on those buses.

It's not just parents who should be protesting at being denied the right to control their children's environment. I wonder what Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner thinks, for instance. The Durex advertisement replaced his election poster. I think of him every time I walk by.

Melbourne City Council should be protesting, too. If someone plasters a work place cubicle with pin-ups, he can be hauled over the coals for sexual harassment. But isn't flaunting a taboo-defying billboard sexual harassment on steroids? Isn't it a form of child abuse to force upon youngsters knowledge that they are hardly ready for.

Surely it is not being prudish to expect that busy inner-city neighbourhoods where lots of children and families congregate should remain free of sexually explicit advertising. Let's reclaim the streets for our kids in this holiday season and demand that Durex remove its appalling billboards.

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About the Author

Michael Cook edits the Internet magazine MercatorNet and the bioethics newsletter BioEdge.

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