I have seen a lot of television from all over the world, and I think certain patterns can be discerned. The UK, for example, seems to favour understatement ("Try our product. It's actually quite good and you might find you like it."), whereas the US seems to favour overstatement ("Our product will change your LIFE by how good it is!"). Of course, there are many exceptions to this sort of broad statement.
TV ads have 30 seconds to grab your attention, interest you in the product, and burrow into your memory so that the next time you go shopping, the product resurfaces in your mind and you go and buy it. The means by which these goals are achieved is sometimes clever and interesting, and sometimes dull and banal. Agencies seek to associate the product with something attractive: sex, humour, happy children. Advertising jingles are an especially insidious way to drill a brand into your memory: I loathe their irritating jolly little melodies and instrumental stabs.
But a really good ad makes you laugh, think, or sit up in surprise. And it gets progressively harder to do any of those things because all the good ideas (the low-hanging fruit) have all been seen a thousand times before (and some of them, like brand slogans or jingles, have been done to death). It's no suprise to me that there are now awards for good ads, where someone in a tux reads out the results in reverse order from the back of a golden card.
Ads which speak to women about femininity (whether that be clothes, cosmetics, perfume, or even chocolate), speak right to the heart of crossdressers too: that's how I want to look! That's how I want to feel! Where can I get some of that product? (I might explore this a little further in a different post).
Let's take a look at some advertising featuring cross-dressing. Take a look at this one first:
This sort of ad is just awful for me. The crossdressers here are figures of ridicule, and this sort of sniggering and poking fun at grotesque crossdressers has never been funny; not even in a 1960's cartoon seaside-postcard sort of way. This exact trope is regularly found in the comedy show Little Britain, where "rubbish transvestite Emily" parades around insisting she is a "laydee" and fooling no-one. I cringe when I see this: I stopped watching the show because I found it so distasteful. Little Britain has a lot of very clever comedy (and is very popular), but this just misses the mark for me. However, the shows creators, Matt Lucas and David Walliams, continue their comic crossdressing in other shows such as Come Fly With Me.
So let's move on. When I first saw this ad, I thought it was my worst nightmare come to celluloid:
I like this sort of ad. In fairness, the drag queens in the queue are much too gaudy for my personal taste (though I suppose for the advert's purposes, they need to be unmistakeable; a convincing crossdresser wouldn't cut it here at all). On the other hand, the message of the ad ("We live in modern times") carries (for me) a great note of positivity. Okay, it says. Some men like to crossdress. Get over it. Hey, son, bring your friends and we'll all go partying together.
Here is my third offering. This is one I never saw on the screen, but found on the Internet. Take a look:
Interesting though this ad is, it doesn't quite hit the spot for me. The girl in the dress looks amazing. The boy in the suit looks convincing enough to begin with (he seems to have miraculously acquired a bit of makeup by the time he takes his hair down). Both of these actors make me think of the model Andrej Pejic, a man who is so androgynously beautiful he can successfully model both men's and women's clothing on the catwalk, and is in considerable demand to do so (What does that say about our idealised image of women?).
I am sure the ad agency (and I think this ad has a European pedigree) is trying to show that its Italian aperitif may look similar to other drinks, but underneath it is quite different. On the other hand, I am not sure that the final bit of action, spilling the drink on the dress provoking the big reveal, is meaningful in any way, although I am sure they needed some pretext for it. Does this imply a restitution of social norms somehow? Maybe I am overthinking it. I find myself coming away saying "Hmmm....ok", rather than "Hey! Wow!"
Once again, though, I take some encouragement from this ad. Both protagonists are beautiful, whether as a boy or a girl. Both are enjoying their crossdressing, publicly and successfully. They are not in drag; they are not grotesque or overcooked. There is an undertone of the forbidden or the spicy, but I suspect that's what the agency is trying to associate with the product, and I certainly associate with crossdressing myself. Overall the ad doesn't grab me or make me want to buy the product, but it doesn't repel me and want me to shout at the screen (like the kitchen paper ad).
So the winner for me is the Twingo ad, with Campari in second place. Congratulations. A wooden spoon with two golden raspberries to Bounty. Sorry lads.
The Internet has dozens of ads featuring crossdressing. In a future blog post, I might get on and talk about a few more.