Every month, almost like clockwork, the Powell Street BART station will change over its entire advertising schema. It’s not quite the changing of the guard, but it’s at least as colorful. In addition to the standard raft of billboards throughout the station, there is a large floor advertisement actually matted atop the base of the escalators. It’s one of those things that really blew me away the first time I saw it and has now become entirely commonplace.
Anyway, December ’07 is devoted to Kaiser Permanente’s “Thrive” campaign. They have rolled out a holiday-oriented theme that, in line with most of the Thrive stuff, seems to believe that health is just a matter of positive thinking and maybe a smattering of vegetables and exercise. An interesting approach from medical providers. But given that they benefit the most from people not using their services, I suppose it works.
So each ad is different, which is a refreshing change from the iPod ads which all run together, or the earlier Sony Reader ads which literally had two different designs that they repeated about twelve times each. All seem to resolve around holiday cheer and vacation, with the running theme of “Time to [blank]”. Time to Relax. Looks nice. Time to Forgive. Cute, especially with a youngish couple kissing and making up, with the kissing neatly cloaked behind a balloon. Time to Illuminate, with the politically correct menorah. After all, there’s another with a Christmas tree. Time to Thrust. Wait, what?
Even a double-take assures the mind that it is indeed “Time to Thrust”. Part of the reaffirmation is that the image is entirely below the waist, with a headless female figure standing barefoot atop a notably taller headless male figure’s shoes, facing him. Oh, wait, hold on… “Time to Trust”. And – oh my goodness – it’s a young child with an adult.
You really have no idea how disturbing I found this ad to be. There is massive blurriness behind the area of the T, R, and U in what (apparently) is really saying “Trust”. But it’s really hard to see. And then there’s the factor that the whole ad campaign is punctuated with Thrive, neatly started with the THR letter combination. And of course the below-the-waist cross-gender shot. Yeah, there’s really no way on Earth this was unintentional.
But you can feel sheepish enough, Kaiser, for evoking encouragement of pelvic movement on your health-promotion ad series (insert overly obvious joke here). But in a presumed (when one really examines it fully and objectively, not quickly and assumptively) father-and-daughter combo? This just breaks new ground of inappropriateness. And frankly, it’s ultimately disturbing. After all, the message is that it’s time to trust. But if it’s time to thrust, the trust couldn’t be more misplaced. Between the adult male and the female child. Could it really get any more subliminally despicable?
You can say whatever you will about the use of sex in advertising just being the market solving. After all, I was reading about another example just yesterday. But when Kaiser’s invoking pedophilia, I get a little worried. Though I guess they got what they really wanted. Someone’s talking about it. Instead of spending my time relating details of my life or the latest revelation about what’s going on, I’m talking about an inappropriate ad on the subway.
What, exactly, has the market solved lately?