Portland, not Pornland

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The Portland, OR ad world is all shook up over a mock porn trailer that spoofs advertising. One side claims the short film is "funny, irreverent, and self-deprecating." The other side finds it tasteless and "too far over the edge." Thus, the battle lines were drawn recently after Portland agency Elvis & Bonaparte and its production company partner, Food Chain Films, submitted a controversial bumper for the Rosey Awards, the Portland Advertising Federation's annual prizefest honoring creative excellence. It's attractive to get to make one, explains David Helfrey, creative director at Elvis & Bonaparte, not because of the pay (there is none), but because a bumper gives you a chance to flex your creative muscle for the Portland creative community "without the constraints you'd have if you were working for a client." Helfrey says his agency and Food Chain spent at least $11,000 on their bumper, entitled Reach and Frequency.

Then the PAF canned it. Wouldn't show it. Claimed it would offend "clients and sponsors."

Why was the little film such a big problem? It's a two-minute trailer for an imaginary '70s skin flick (one that shows very little skin: the only more or less explicit shot is of a man's bare backside; no frontal nudity of any kind). The joke? The film's hot action takes place in an ad agency. Many of the crass double entendres play off that theme, resulting in puns about "maximum penetration," "insertion orders," and the avowal that "advertising just got harder." One scene shows a man getting increasingly aroused during lovemaking because his slutty partner obligingly fluffs his ego with,"You're Dan Wieden, you're Dan Wieden!"

From a production point of view, the film is dead-on -- the men are immodestly mustachioed, the suits polyester, the shades of brown and beige appropriately drab, the acting convincingly awful. It's almost on a par with the often-praised blaxploitation spoofs that John O'Hagan and Hungry Man did for MTV earlier this year. But the PAF was not amused. "We have no rock hard criteria for the content of the bumpers," acknowledges president Dennis Hahn, "but there's a line. I guess we didn't know where the line was until somebody crossed it." Hahn says Elvis & Bonaparte did not run the idea or the script by the show's producer, as the PAF requires of all bumper contributors. E&B's Helfrey counters that there were only technical guidelines and that in years past, Rosey bumpers had featured drug use, profanity, violence and mutilation.

Incidentally, it wasn't the first time that PAF dignitaries nixed the pro bono efforts of Portland creatives. Three years ago, the awards show's program, designed by Kirsten Finstad, an AD and partner at Sullivan Pattison Clevenger, was deemed too risqué. "Because that year's theme was birth and rebirth, you know, in the creative sense, we'd put a picture of an umbilical cord on the cover," recalls Finstad. "The PAF had seen and approved the black-and-white comps, but when they got the actual color program from the printer, they freaked. Then they photocopied the cover with a piece of paper pasted over the picture, and substituted those photocopies for the original cover."

There wasn't much Finstad could do about it then. But this time around, the aggrieved party had the last laugh. The November 19 show proceeded without Helfrey and without Reach and Frequency ("we were nonetheless sold out," notes Dennis Hahn dryly), but the agency had already, um, erected a Website featuring the trailer (www.reachfrequency.com). That exposed the mock trailer, and the PAF's decision, to many more people than would otherwise have seen it or heard of it. Less than a week after E&B went live with the site, a counter on the home page showed more than 40,000 hits, and e-mail messages exhorting recipients to "check out this site" were racing through agencies across the country.

Talk about reach.

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