Dear Parents and Carers*,
So Ann Summers has caused a furore by their really grim “I-scream” campaign. Already lots of blog posts on it here, here, here, here, here and here. Rather than replicate the other fine posts on it, I was having musings of a slightly different angle.
When I was about 7ish I saw some people with bald heads giving away free papers. Knowing how much my dad loved free papers to make spills for our fire, I pulled his arm and drew attention to the men with the free papers, “Daddy daddy, free papers- let’s get some!”. My dad pulled me away and explained that those skinheaded men were actually neo-nazi’s or the BNP (if it existed back then) and the free papers they were handing out were going to be horribly racist and he would never take them, not even to burn on our fire (although as an aside, I distinctly remember a cheeky double standard there, as my dad used to put up Labour Posters everywhere during run ups to the election- and he “kindly” offered to help the Tory campaigner doing the same with his Conservative posters, by claiming he just did it as a dayjob he wasn’t affiliated to any party. The stupid arse believed him and our fire burned happily with Conservative posters for a while! HAHAH!) I digress but when my dad explained what the newspapers were I distinctly remember claiming I wanted to go and get one and burn it in front of them (yes I was a 7 year old political activist, I was a member of the Woodcraft Folk- we kept trying trying to free Nelson Mandela- I knew that racist shit was wrong.) Yes, my dad did pull me away in case my 7year old head got kicked in- or his for having such a bolshy daughter!
But my point is this- yes kids are going to see unpleasant things on the high street. It’s unfortunate but true. The very existence of Ann Summers on the high street may need explaining at some point. As it happens I live very near a sex toy warehouse (as you do!), the sign outside makes it fairly clear what the company is. We walk past it most days and at some point the kids will ask what the sign means, and I will tell them, an age appropriate version of the truth, “they sell toys for grownups” or something. What I am trying to say is that yes Ann Summers is wrong and grim for this particular campaign but we can’t let such things abdicate our responsibility as parents is to explain controversial things they may question us about. If anything it highlights the increasing need for parents to be prepared and equip themselves for such difficult conversations.
Don’t get me wrong I do think Ann Summers are disgustingly cynical for running this particular grim campaign, but I think we are all falling into exactly the publicity trap they want by getting so hysterical about it. It’s the Daily Mail Technique all over again. Ann Summer’s couldn’t give a stuff that “the mums” are up in arms about it- we are not really their core target audience- they really want the bright young things- the 18-30-somethings the ones who don’t want to be “the stuffy prudish mummy types”, so by alienating us, they increase their core rating with their chosen demographic. Or am I being cynical?
When pondering how to write this post, I was talking to @Itsmotherswork about the Ann Summers I Scream Advertising campaign as she is a mum and activist whose opinions I deeply respect. She wrote the following which basically sums up exactly how I feel in a far better way than I could ever write, so I paste it below (reproduced with permission).
I think it’s deliberately provocative in a deeply unpleasant way. I think it draws together themes/images of sexuality and childhood in order to provoke a reaction; it does so knowingly having seen other similarly questionable campaigns raise the profile of other brands without taking a reputational hit to their brand value, and it’s because basically the people who buy into the Ann Summers brand aren’t the same demographic as those who get apoplectic over children’s exposure to sexualised images. For that reason I think that hysterical ’anti’ campaigning only feeds the publicity machine in a way that they will be quite happy with. I’d prefer a subdued shrug of the shoulders and a “what a pity they’re prepared to walk that line just to court publicity” stance. (There’s no other possible reason for the theme of the campaign.) I do think that parents need to be ready to explain all sorts of images and ideas to their offspring, perhaps earlier in their lives than they imagined, and I do consider that a responsibility that they should take seriously. But I absolutely don’t think that it’s a responsibility that parents should shoulder alone. In a way that means that other adults who aren’t raising children can out whatever images they like into the world and leave parents having to deal with the explanations. What I’d really like to see is the Ann Summers team who commissioned the campaign and the agency that developed it, sitting down with children and answering the questions that the children have, which the campaign provokes. I think they should be required to confront the consequences of their provocation and deal with them honestly, and ideally while the parents of the children asking the questions watch them do it, and see how they manage.
Her final point is SHEER GENIUS! Let’s call them to account in that way. Let’s ask them to sit down with the children and answer their questions about the campaign. Let’s confront them with the reality of their advertising. In fact maybe we should call upon the ASA to set up just such a group for all advertising, it might just help to reign in this runaway “sex sells” technique, for I personally can’t see a advertising executive being very comfortable explaining what lubricant is to a 6year old. Can you?
P.S. *”Dear Parents and Carers” reads like a letter home from school- not sure they would ever send one like this home! but maybe schools should send letters home with tips and advice on where to get help and support to deal with difficult conversations like this?