Abercrombie ad hints at nether regions

From ‘Orchard Rd topless ad causes stir’, 25 June 2011, article in insing.com translated from LHWB

A topless billboard ad along Orchard Road has caused a stir for its giant display of a chiselled male body. Only the model’s upper body can be seen, with a pair of extremely low-slung jeans hinting at his nether regions.

Abercrombie & Fitch is known for its body-beautiful models and has no qualms using sex to sell their brand. Many of its ads display handsome young men wearing nothing but their hipster jeans. The ad has caused quite a stir with people who have seen it.

STOMPer Dees-stracting said she was “embarrassed” when she saw it. She commented that a friend of hers had posted the picture online, asking whether it was too “vulgar”. Dees-tracting admitted that while it was common for underwear ads to feature sexy stars or models, she found it overtly sexy.

“From what I see in this picture, this ad is just of a body. Really, it’s just selling sex. And I can’t even see he is wearing clothes until I look waaay below at his waayyy too low jeans.”

A n F is NSFW

A complete picture would have qualified the ad as a Playgirl Magazine cover of the year. Deliberately scintillating and head-cropped to enhance the theme of sexual objectification, with a chiselled torso and a pelvic V line drawing the viewer’s attention towards what lies beneath the jeans rather than the jeans themselves. The product makes up less than 20% of the ad frame, a common visual strategy employed in topless female lingerie ads as well. But what makes A n F stand out from other retail giants, and hence succeed, is the mass sexual appeal of almost-naked studs in their ads, to both heterosexuals and gays alike.  A n F understands that even alpha-males no longer gaze longingly at Guess girls or celebrities anymore, and uses the lure of a perfect torso to get their attention rather than a handsome Caucasian face. If there’s a woman in the picture, A n F adds in a half naked man to further taunt male audiences. The use of black and white also eliminates the most salient visual racial signal; skin colour.

By removing everything else,  leaving a snippet of the jeans itself, and focussing entirely on physique, A n F is tapping into the most reptilian parts of the envious male brain, hoping that somewhere along the way the neural circuitry that triggers the buying impulse gets activated as well. So, the trick is this; the curious male walks in to see what’s the fuss over topless male models, bringing his female partner and sticks with her out of natural protective instinct, which raises the chances of a double sale (girl buys something for herself and her reluctant shopper male). So there’s nothing controversial about this really, just slick marketing banking on our  brain’s automatic sexualisation of masculine identity, though Singaporeans would do well to recall A n F’s Brothers Wong US campaign which depicted Asians as slitty-eyed laundry men in the early 2000s.

They got it all Wong

Some fashion retailers decide to do away with their clothing altogether, as seen in United Colours of Benetton Aids drive in the 1990’s, which depicts a butt cheek being stamped ‘HIV positive’. Huge international furore over this obviously, and it would be ironic if an ad that serves to educate audiences on the fatal blight that is AIDS also causes motorists to get into accidents from getting distracted by it.

This ad is anything butt cheeky

Jeans ads weren’t always sexy, though. In fact they were once celebrated for their utility at work or play rather than sex appeal, originally cut from the canvas tops of wagons and first worn by Californian gold miners in the late 19th century, or so the story goes (See below, ‘Jeans- standard wear for the fashionable young’, 2 April 1978, ST). Still, the titillative potential of jeans was recognised even then, in the form of a ‘Texwood fashion rock opera’ (‘More skin than jeans shock at fashion show’, 6 Jan 1976, ST), which featured semi nude models stripping down to their underwear, performing ‘vigorous and often indelicate gyrating movements’ at the Singapore Hilton. Unbelievably, earlier in the seventies, a sexist article on tight jeans ‘leaving the boys panting’ was published in the ST (See below, Jeans That’ll Leave the Boys panting,  10 Dec 1972). If that headline were read in today’s context, you’d have thought it referred to how tight jeans were worn by boys instead. Whether it’s on a topless celebrity or a headless stud, you could say no apparel in the history of fashion sets tongues wagging like a pair of jeans can.

Look! These jeans models are actually doing stuff!

Postscript: The ad was eventually deemed to have ‘breached of the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice guidelines on decency’ on 28 Sept 2011. 3 MONTHS after it was first plastered over Knightbridge. Three  bodies are involved in the call to suspend the ad, the ASAS (Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore), the MDA (Media Development Authority) and the BCA (Building and Construction Authority), and all this fuss over a gigantic male pelvis. This is really a question of scale not so much as abject obscenity. If the ad were reduced to the size of a poster, it’s unlikely that it would be blown to current proportions.

Here’s what Dr Tan Sze Wee, chairman of ASAS has to say about the decision to pull down the ad on 1 Oct 2011 (Advertising watchdog denies claims of ‘double standards’, ST)

…Asas chairman Tan Sze Wee told The Straits Times that the ad was put up in a prominent location at the Knightsbridge mall in Orchard Road. He noted too that the ad was big – being plastered across the four-level shopfront – and exposed ‘a bit too much’ of the body.

…Dr Tan, commenting on the issue of public ads featuring semi-nude lingerie models, said Asas had reviewed the placement of such an ad at bus stops a few years ago, following public complaints.

‘But Asas found no issue of indecency. Sensitive parts of the body were not overly exposed in the ad,’ he added.

What does Dr Tan mean by ‘exposure of too much body’ here? Has the threshold of the tolerable ratio of flesh to fabric been crossed? If instead of a giant AnF Pelvic Man we have a giant Cleavage Woman, would people still complain?

2 Responses

  1. I don’t see what the fuss is. I saw the ad and I thought it was hot!! and definitely caught my attention about the upcoming opening of AnF.

    Anyway most ads nowadays are sexually themed. You just have to accept it. Have anyone seen the perfume ads that’s shown on national TV recently?? Protest all you want but nothing’s gonna change.

  2. I’ve been to AnF New York and they have models who do nothing but stand at the end of stairways greeting shoppers as they walk up. Wonder if the same concept applies to the local store.

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