Dear Parents and Carers- Re. Anne Summers- I-Scream Campaign

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 hereherehereherehere 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?

Yours Sincerely



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?


About LadyCurd

Likes ladybirds & lemon curd. On reflection combining the two names was a mistake.
This entry was posted in Sex Education, Sexualisation, Talking to your kids about sex and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Dear Parents and Carers- Re. Anne Summers- I-Scream Campaign

  1. dillytante says:

    Interesting post, and I agree with you to some extent. My blog post didn’t focus on the child aspect really either. That’s not what bothers me about this campaign most. Sex shops don’t bother me too much either, I mean people should be able to buy their sex accessories from somewhere. I hate the misogyny and the preying upon young women to provide entertainment. I tried to avoid the “won’t someone think of the children” attitude because you are right, that will only get sympathy among a certain demographic. In fact focusing on that side of things almost obscurs the real problem with somewhere like Ann Summers, which is the negative and damaging messages regarding sex which it portrays to young women.

    • LadyCurd says:

      I find it fascinating how we are all bothered by slightly different aspects of the campaign. I was viewing that side of things as more like “wet t-shirt competitions” or “mud wrestling” – pretty naff but some girls do it, but you have highlighted to me that it is actually more serious than that. So thankyou. I need to ponder on this further.

  2. glosswitch says:

    We pass a massive sex toy warehouse on the way back from the big supermarket we shop at. The name of the shop is “pulse and cocktails”. I don’t know how I’ll explain it to my sons if they ask because I’m kind of freaked out by it myself (it makes me think rape – as long as she’s got a pulse and has had enough cocktails – but perhaps I am overthinking it!).
    I never know what the right thing is with these “don’t give them the publicity” issues. Ann Summers should be bothered if a link is being made with children. At least, “corrupting children” is an easier route of attack than accusations of sexism (about which no one really cares when it comes to porn because hey, it’s all too complex and you don’t want to look like one of those saddos from Object…). I can remember a time when Ann Summers seemed in some way feminist to me – a new type of sex shop that saw women as active participants. Well, not any more (not that I’ll be turning to “pulse and cocktails” any time soon).

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