This is a NSFW post about how advertising headlines should be subtle and not like your dong.

This is a story about a penis.

Not just a penis. Any penis. All of the penises.

I think we all know that penises are gross. The first time you see one — provided it doesn’t already belong to you — is a disarming, intensely weird experience. Them things just don’t look right. They’re not the same color as the rest of the dude. They move around independently, often in open defiance of their male-person’s wishes. Some of them look like they have a seam up the middle, which I guess makes sense when you consider that penises — like 80% of all of the advertising headlines ever written — were just sort of stuck on as an afterthought. The first woman to have sex with a penis did so just so she wouldn’t have to actually look at it anymore. At least you can’t see it while you’re getting the business.

Pretty much, only the skeeziest, most mentally deficient dudes try to woo with their mandangles. This approach, though direct, has an ROI of 0%. None of us ever voted on this. There was no memo circulated of which I am aware. Our species-wide understanding of penile godawfulness is innate, though this understanding diminishes infinitely the closer one gets to the Casual Encounters section on Craigslist.

So let’s examine some stereotypes of Sexy Hot Man Goodness. Offhand, a few adjectives that leap to mind: brooding, rugged, confident. Strong. Taut. Covered in ten gallons of oil. (Apparently manflesh is best when slow-roasted.) Think of every Harlequin romance novel you pretended not to notice, mocking openly with your friends while secretly fantasizing about absconding with one to learn whether anything so shameful and base would actually make you want to diddle yourself in the fifteen minutes your boyfriend takes to crap before coming to bed hang on what was I saying?

Oh, right. None of those covers have wangs on them.

Nor do beefcake calendars of the models someone hired to pose as your city’s Friendly Local Volunteer Firefighters. Nor do fitness magazines with pictures of veiny, scowling, hulked-out caricatures of male humans.

“I’m not satisfied until every vein is forced up against my skin. Look how vascular I am, Brian. If there’s one thing women love it’s a vascular man.”

ACTUAL sexy mags do not do this. Here. Here’s some butt cheeks. Here’s a pair of nice shoulders, those are pretty sweet, aren’t they? Here’s that weird area just below the hips and right above the actual peen, where you can see a little bit of the peen but ONLY SOME and it makes you kind of WANT to pull down his Jockeys to see the rest but not really because you know how gross that would be, don’t you, reader? Because you, you are cleverer than that. And because you’re so clever, you only have to pay us $24.99.

None of them expressly say to you, “Hey, ladies and some of you dudes out there. We’re all about sex, and we feel that only an image of a huge fucking phallis is going to convey to you how much about sex we really are.” You don’t need penis to understand sex. In fact, you’re better off without it.

There is a tendency in marketing and advertising for clients, and even for creatives, to litter the ground with chewed fingernails as they lament, “BUT WHAT IF THE CUSTOMER DOESN’T GET IT.” 30-second, high-level product teasers turn into bloated, unwatchable 7-minute product demos. A quick quarter-page magazine ad with a picture, a headline, and a few sentences inflates into the white paper from hell. “Keep It Simple, Stupid” is thrown by the wayside, yet another bloodied, violated victim of drive-by neurosis. Congratulations: you have now explained your audience into a coma.

By this logic, some of the most beloved slogans, logos, and headlines in advertising history would simply never have existed. Imagine:

Just do what?

“Just Do It”? But what is IT? Why are we doing it? Why should we WANT to do it? Legal says this sounds too sexual. Let’s just go with “Nike Makes Great Shoes for Athletes, But Also For Everyone Else.”

“Taste the rainbow”? Don’t be stupid. Rainbows are the result of sunlight refracted through atmospheric moisture. They are intangible phenomena. You can’t very well TASTE them. Did you even GO to college? This is why our kids are failing.

We don’t want to mislead our customers into believing the LAST drop isn’t good, too.

You get the idea.

It’s bad enough that advertisers are already widely thought of as whores. (Please forget that I may have gently alluded to that same analogy at some point in the distant, nebulous past.) We don’t have to ACTUALLY give up the goods on the first date. It’s never a bad idea to have a bunch of options, sure. Certainly you don’t want to go SO obscure — IN THE NAME OF ART, DAMN IT, ART — that people are more confused than they are intrigued. This is the tightrope we walk.

But I have always maintained, in my long, illustrious advertising career of five years, that we do not give our audiences enough credit. There is always time to spell things out for them later: on websites, in articles, with infographics and call-outs and blurbs and factoids and whatever other expository jargon floats your boat. The POINT of a headline is to draw them to the detailed information. Court your readers. Woo them. Enthrall them.


WHAT’S UNDER THE TOWEL, ISAIAH? FOR GOD’S SAKE, SHOW US WHAT’S UNDER THE TOWEL.

Only then, when they are thoroughly captivated by your mystery, inveigled into your arms by a slow smile, a turn of the head, and the promise of warmth unending — then, and only then, do you whip out your lovestick and give ’em what-for. They’ll love it. They’ll need it. They’ll BEG for it.

But they will never, ever, EVER ask to see a picture. Ugh. Put that shit away.

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Comments

  1. Don Rutledge says:

    Too true, on all counts.

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