Thirty-some years ago, Charmin, the bathroom tissue (which is a euphemism, in deference to the squeamish, for toilet paper) offered clear product superiority. It was far softer than the competition, which meant less irritation for the user, especially users of a certain age, who perhaps endure the heartbreak of swollen hemorrhoidal tissue (which is itself a delicate phrasing of "hemorrhoids.")
So what was Procter & Gamble going to do? Demonstrate the softness on a 5:1 scale-model rectum?
No, the point of all the linguistic soft-pedaling is that many human beings--at least American human beings--do not like to be confronted with their bodily functions. As a society, we tend to view them as embarrassing and revolting. Related product benefits, therefore, need to be communicated without summoning any of the distasteful images associated with bathroom hygiene.
No demos, no graphic descriptions, no adorable animated gnomes in the Valley of the Giant.
Hence, to advertise its softness advantage, Procter was reduced to dramatizing a perverted grocer compulsively squeezing rolls of toilet paper. Oddly, though Mr. Whipple was clearly a twisted individual, his Charmin-fondling character was deemed far less offensive than, say, an animated Mr. Anus.
And so we come to understand one of the most annoying, and most successful, campaigns in advertising history.
Of course, that was then. This is now.
Now we are a coarser, hipper, more liberally communicative society. We can say "That sucks" on TV. The No. 1, boffo, general-audience comedy of the last five years featured Cameron Diaz with semen in her hair. "South Park," the Comedy Central cartoon, is all about bodily functions. And, by the way: Camp David II?
Tampax was there.
So if the question is, "Are we less squeamish than we used to be?", the answer is: "Hey, does a bear shit in the woods?"
We're not being rhetorical; we're citing an example. Our mom alerted us to this one. P&G--via D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, London and New York--is on the air with a spot featuring an animated bear, newspaper in paw, taking care of business behind a tree.
Then, as a voice-over describes the quiltlike softness of Charmin, the bear wipes himself before our eyes, wiggling contentedly as he does so.
An ursine of the times, we suppose, but goodness gracious.
Now, our mom is an extremely, extremely aged American--127, 128, something in that range--and she would naturally be put off by this sort of thing. She's still smarting over Betty Boop ("the little tramp"). But we've got to throw in with her on this one. It's disgusting.
Yeah, the bear is cute. Yeah, he's a cartoon. No, we don't actually see any animated feces. But, for crying out loud, he's taking a dump. And wiping up, and, apparently, just leaving the used Charmin on the sylvan floor.
We can handle the idea of real bears and real bear scat in real nature. But these anthropomorphic bears don't make us think of the wild. They make us think of the bathroom, with imagery far more graphic than we are interested in having.
Should Procter pull this spot?
Hey, is the pope Catholic?