Published on .

PARIS -- French government officials are turning up the volume in a calculated campaign to convince advertisers and their ad agencies to tone down the use of sex to sell products.

While French consumers have long been accustomed to racy ads, government officials are now promising to draw the line in the coming months after a series of ads for clothing, luxury goods, perfume and shoe brands outraged conservative family groups and feminist activists alike.

The first act in the government's morality play launches in mid-May, when Segolene Royal, junior minister for education and family affairs, will chair a parliamentary round table on sexual imagery and violence in televised advertising. The hearing, to include testimony from and discussions with network TV executives, advertisers and their agencies, industry leaders and researchers, aims to force the ad industry into greater self-discipline, Ms. Royal said.

Nicole Pery, the junior minister for women's rights in France's Socialist-led coalition government, will follow Ms. Royal in July, when she unveils a much-awaited report from a governmental panel she heads on the place of women in advertising. The report, now being drafted by an inter-ministerial team including elected officials and representatives of the ad industry, will contain an extensive list of ads that incite violence against women, promote gender discrimination or attack women's collective dignity, Ms. Pery said. The report could lead to new industry-led or governmental efforts to control advertising.

All of the ads likely to be named and shamed in Ms. Pery's report will have won the prior approval of France's Truth in Advertising Commission, or BVP, the industry-led watchdog currently charged with vetting advertising before it appears publicly.

The BVP has recognized the growing backlash against sexually-discriminatory ads, however, and is participating in Ms. Pery's panel. It has also taken concrete steps in recent days against offensive ads, most recently ordering clothing retailer The City to pull a billboard ad from Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide, Paris, receiving wide play depicting a nearly nude woman kneeling next to a sheep above the tagline "I need a sweater."

Several other ads in the four-visual campaign, featuring scantily-clad models in search of clothing, also received strong complaints from feminist organizations but were not sanctioned by the BVP.

Last week at the American Association of Advertising Agencies annual meeting in Naples, Fla., DDB Worldwide Chairman Keith Reinhard gave a speech against advertising that crossed the line of taste and decency. -- Lawrence J. Speer

Copyright May 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

Most Popular
In this article: