From exploding zits to humans throwing up animals - our Editor-in-Chief looks at some of the most disgusting ads past and present. Prepare to be grossed out.
Leave it to the Australians with their often hardy sense of humour, which has distinguished many great commercials from there, to come up with what is certainly the yuckiest ad I’ve ever seen. It was submitted a couple of weeks ago and is for Oxy face wash, a product aimed at teenagers with spot-prone skin.
The ad is composed of home-movie like snippets of guys and gals having a go at their pimples. The first part is staged as a kind of buildup to the spectacle of exploding zits in all shapes and sizes oozing, shooting, splattering pus, blood and Lord knows what all over the place. I’m putting a description here in case you’re of the faint hearted and want to be spared the actual sight. As you know, what has been seen can’t be unseen!
Video: Oxy "Man-Sized Problems" by Naked Communication, Melbourne.
The commercial created by Melbourne agency Naked Communication will, no doubt, go down a storm with their target group. I can just imagine the theatrical squeaking and shrieking and other high-decibel reactions from a bunch of teenagers watching this. It also got me thinking of other ‘disgusting’ commercials that we’ve seen over the years – none of them out-grossing this latest addition to that genre of course.
Going back chronologically, there was the brilliant 2003 “Dog Breath” commercial for Wrigley’s X-Cite breath fresheners by AMV BBDO, London, which, in amazing detail, shows a hungover man actually vomiting a dog. (Fantastic casting too, the mutt in particular!) This really needs to be seen to be believed.
Wrigley's "Dog Breath" by AMV BBDO, London
The same year brought us a another sensational if – for some – queasiness inducing beer commercial again from Australia, in which a sleeping man’s tongue (a masterpiece of model-making in connection with CGI) emancipates itself, jumps into an ice tub full of Toohey’s Extra Dry at a neighbouring party, grabs a bottle and returns with it to its rightful owner
Three years earlier there was a Sony Playstation spot from TBWA Simon Palmer, London, called “Le Petit Chef” which in daunting close-ups warns against the dangers of putting yourself at the mercy of the staff at expensive restaurants and suggests a quiet evening at home with one’s Playstation instead.
Another commercial, from 1999 and created by Young & Rubicam, Amsterdam, is more restrained in what it actually shows to demonstrate that Via Via, a weekly Amsterdam paper that consists entirely of small ads, may come in handy when looking for things like second hand jewellery or even a new partner. It does, however, conjure up vivid – and to some no doubt offensive – images of what the very proper and dull-looking husband has been up to.
I spoke to my friend Simon Pühler, a film theorist who has extensively written on David Cronenberg – once the number one film director when it came to what has been termed “body-horror” – and who has also detected an increased fascination in popular culture with bodily fluids of all kinds that until a some years ago used to be met with disgust and revulsion.
Simon mentioned “Feuchtgebiete” (English: “Wetlands”) a novel by British-born German TV presenter Charlotte Roche, which was the world’s best-selling novel on Amazon.com in March 2008 and by now has sold more than two-million copies in Germany alone. Its protagonist, an 18-year old girl stuck in a hospital after a failed attempt to shave her intimate parts, muses about her distaste for personal hygiene and her sexual fantasies about bodily odours and plays with her “pussy juice”.
It’s not so surprising really that this fascination has over the past decade spilled over into advertising, which is after all just a reflection on society and its tastes and obsessions as a whole. And neither is it surprising that meanwhile precursors of the trend such as David Cronenberg have long moved on, finding the theme of “body-horror” apparently no longer topical – perhaps because of its very omnipresence in today’s media (from Top Model Search and Extreme Makeover type of formats to, obviously, advertising).
While Cronenberg’s films from the 70s and 80s such as Shivers, Rabid or his masterpiece Videodrome revelled in bodies forced into submission by virtue of certain technologies and manipulations, which then invariably resulted in proliferating appendages, new orifices, cancerous oozing growth and permutations, his latest two films were A Dangerous Method, on Sigmund Freud’s talking cure and the film version of Don DeLillo’s novel “Cosmopolis,” in which a young billionaire financier glides through nocturnal New York, hermetically sealed in his chauffeur-driven limousine.
Video: "Le Petit Chef" by TBWA Simon Palmer, London
Video: Via Via "Honey, Where's Your Wedding Ring?" by Y&R, Amsterdam.