Not Many Pinups in Swimsuit-Issue Ad Pool

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The Super Bowl of print advertising?

That's how Time Inc. regards the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, which is thick with ad pages contrived especially for the magazine's annual cheesecake edition. Man, we sure hope the hype is exaggerated. If this is the Super Bowl of print, the wrong teams are in the game.

Not only do the ads fail to make the impact we expect from a special event, many of them actually look thrown together at the last minute, relying on some flimsy reference to the surrounding boobage and nothing else.

Approximately half the ads in the issue are unremarkable, leaving no impression whatsoever. For instance, the AdReview staff has just finished poring over them for the second time and 15 minutes later we absolutely cannot recall the advertisers. That's par for the course in magazine advertising, long since a bastard stepchild in the industry. But in the Super Bowl, or any other kind of special publishing event, it spells disaster.

The news isn't all bad. About a dozen of the ads are impressive, and more on them presently. An equal number fail on every level, but most especially on the level of calling attention to the venue itself. The swimsuit issue is obnoxious enough of an exercise without Bass, the Weejuns people, making tagline jokes like "Come Together." Or Cobra, the golf-club manufacturer straining to observe "You obviously enjoy looking at the world's hottest faces. Here's one more." Only it isn't some supermodel. It's the new King Cobra driver! Ha ha!

Likewise the introduction of the Gillette Fusion six-blade razor. There's model Cleo Alves in her bikini, clutching a razor to her bare midriff. "If you like the FRONT..." the headline says, preparing you for the completely unpredictable payoff on the other side of the page. (Are you ready? Here comes the stunning denouement ): "...you'll love the BACK." See, Fusion has a trimmer blade on the back! Gosh, we hope you're not laughing and staring at Cleo's ass too hard to miss the connection.

The swimsuit issue is, of course, all about ass-staring, breast-staring, crotch-staring and pouty-lip staring. It has nothing to do with either sports or swimsuits and everything to do with surrender to adolescent ogling. But that's no excuse to get creepy. A page for Evan Williams bourbon juxtaposes a babe-o-licious pinup girl with her slightly younger high-school self.

"The longer you wait," the headline declares, "the better it gets."

Depending how you interpret "it," this ad is somewhere between repulsive and criminal. Is Time-Warner hurting so bad it can't send some of this trash to some inner circle of Godaddyville?

In fact, Godaddy.com's tawdry and juvenile stunt on the actual Super Bowl should be instructive. If you're going to do booby jokes, you should at least have enough respect for your audience, and yourself, to employ a modicum of restraint ... and wit.

Ford Fusion pulls it off. Pretty much literally. Its slogan is "Life in D"-D being the DRIVE slot on the automatic transmission. But it shows two interpretations: one a beauty shot of the car, and another a large-cup-size bikini drying on a beachside clothesline.

HBO touts the new season of "Sopranos" with a pop-up of Tony's Bada Bing strip club, including the nudie-silhouette logo. Budweiser's Playboy-like four-page foldout shows a model whose bikini is approximated by strategically placed bottle caps. "You can twist anything into a swimsuit," it says. We've seen the same visual gag before, including one more than 20 years ago with artichokes, but it's still playful and cute.

Not as cute as Hummer, though, which shows its now-familiar mom and dad monsters making goo-goo eyes at each other. The headline: "Beauty is Subjective." Nice.

Planters gives is an image of monocled Mr. Peanut, inviting readers to vote on his image facelift. "But please," the ad implores, "use some discretion." He happens to be holding a swimsuit top in one hand and a bottom in the other. The message: No matter what ideas your current reading matter may put in your sick head, no cross-dressing, please.

Foot Locker makes a basketball double-entendre by printing the headline: "36-24-36." Then, the subhead in small type: "Here's to the triple-double." Oscar Wilde it isn't, but at least it's about something.

The best of the genre is for Arby's Chicken Naturals, fast-food poultry unadulterated by fillers, phosphates or water. The art is of a hen wearing a bikini top. The headline: "Ours are real." The art direction isn't much to speak of, but the joke is perfect.

The most powerful ads in the swimsuit issue, however, have nothing to do with the editorial environment whatsoever. Jack Daniels shows an artfully lighted barroom pour of Tennessee sour mash, dubbed, simply "Aromatherapy for men." Trojan manages to make a sex aid called a Vibrating Ring seem classy by illustrating its effect in the style of some Grecian urn, circa 1300 B.C.

The World Baseball Classic stops you in your tracks with four photos of big-league stars, their faces painted to match their native countries' flags. The Las Vegas Visitors bureau, as part of its diabolical ongoing campaign to be the city of anonymous vice, gives you a scratch-off game to randomly assemble a fake identity.

Alas, the most engaging ad in the issue, while making no reference to the swimsuit issue, per se, still manages to embrace the testosterone-addled values that have made this annual rite the institution it is. The ad is a four page graphic serial-i.e., comic book-for Perry Ellis, the designer. The story is about some well-dressed young lad bar-hopping with his friends and soon hitting on a woman, even though he has a girlfriend waiting at home. The text rationalizes this behavior and implies the plot will thicken.

It's so wrong, but somehow so titillating. Which just goes to show:

If you like the front of the swimsuit issue, you don't realize how far backward you've devolved.

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