Pretty face, ugly advertising
And now for a commercial break. It’s not that there’s no news – far from it – but recently I saw an Israeli television advertisement so offensive that it was a distraction of the worst kind.
Megastar model Bar Refaeli has never shied away from cheap publicity, but her latest commercial for Hoodies really hits below the belt. It shows Refaeli and friends, male and female, ogling the torso of a young man getting dressed, pulling up his underpants with a snap. Unable to see the face that goes with the body, Refaeli later seems surprised rather than shocked when the young man turns around and calls out: “Sister!” (I was relieved to learn that although her younger brother is a model, the abs on display in the commercial belong to a stand-in.)
Refaeli has never struck me as a role model. Long before “Wonder Woman” Gal Gadot proved that combat training in the IDF could be an asset and was something to be proud of, Refaeli infamously fictitiously married to avoid military service, which she feared would interfere with her modeling career. In a recent campaign for the Carolina Lemke eye-wear brand, in which Refaeli reportedly has a share, she teamed up with Jeremy Meeks, whose claim to fame is that his smoldering mugshot as a felon launched his modeling career after his release from jail.
I don’t know which marketing genius thought to combine Refaeli’s pretty face with an ad implying an incestuous relationship as a gimmick to attract the younger market (or any market, for that matter).
Coming at the height of the #MeToo campaign raising awareness of the extent of sexual harassment, the advertisement seems especially ill-conceived. I have previously voiced my reservations regarding #MeToo – which lumps together everything from uncomfortable stares and awkward compliments to physical attacks and rape. I also noted that in order to have an effect, there has to be a change in the advertising and entertainment industries.
The Virginia Slims cigarette ads that hit the market in the late 1960s as the feminist movement was beginning to take off boasted: “You’ve come a long way, baby!” We now know that smoking is dangerous but obviously we’ve still got a long way to go when it comes to advertising campaigns. The least successful ads are those in which you can’t tell what is being sold (apart from the model’s body).
At the other extreme, avoiding using women’s faces at all, as sometimes happens with billboard campaigns in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak when advertisers fear the wrath of ultra-Orthodox zealots, is not a healthy direction to be heading either.
There have been a few Israeli commercials memorable for the right reasons. The Milky ads with two women racing their shopping carts down the supermarket aisles to grab the last hugely popular chocolate dessert on the shelf went down in local history. In 1993, Yael Abecassis managed to combine humor and the advertising world’s equivalent of safe sex when she cheekily opened her coat to reveal to male model Lior Miller (but not to viewers) what she was or wasn’t wearing underneath. Castro is still so proud of the ad that its website boasts that it was the company’s “big breakthrough to consumer awareness... The coat campaign precisely defined Castro’s DNA: fashionable, surprising, Israeli, and ours.”
The ad, incidentally, featured the song “Creep” by the then-little known band Radiohead, thus propelling it to lasting stardom in Israel.
That the Castro ad first appeared in 1993 is not by chance. That was the year commercial television arrived in Israel, on November 4, after years of pilot programs.
As media affairs reporter, I covered the launch of commercial TV for The Jerusalem Post. The details are now sketchy – a blur of press conferences and media events. One thing I remember clearly was being outraged by the first movie shown on Channel 2, on the first day of broadcasts. The movie Agil Bezayin purported to be a documentary following the (low) life of a beach bum in Eilat who worked as a gigolo preying on tourists. I don’t want to translate the film title in a family paper. Suffice to say it refers to the piercing in a particularly sensitive part of the protagonist’s anatomy. Not something that Yael Abecassis could ever reveal under her coat.
The choice of movie by Channel 2 franchise Tel-Ad reflected the decision to appeal to the lowest common denominator – and to present a complete contrast to public television’s until-then-unrivaled Channel 1. It was downhill from there. Last week, to much unnecessary fanfare, Keshet and Reshet, the two surviving franchises, were each allocated their own commercial channel, instead of sharing the broadcast waves in an unwieldy system in which certain days were Keshet’s and the rest Reshet’s. The two companies ended up duplicating formats from game shows to reality TV, until few viewers could tell which presenter belonged to which company. Channel 2 was later joined by Channel 10, which has known financial and creative ups and downs. Meanwhile, in May, the Israel Broadcasting Authority was closed down and a new public broadcasting company, known as Kan, took its place. (One of its casualties was the English-language television news broadcast.)
Now, the three commercial stations – Keshet, Reshet and the rebranded 10 – need to fight for viewers and advertisers to survive. I predict that the already not-so-pretty picture is going to get uglier.
MK Nachman Shai, who formerly headed both the Second Authority for Television and Radio and the now defunct IBA, warned in last week’s Post: “The writing is on the wall. The financial cost will quickly be converted into poor quality programming.”
FEMALE JOURNALISTS from across the Israeli media have joined the #MeToo campaign with a vengeance. This week, Keshet president Alex Gilady “temporarily” left his position following allegations by two well-known journalists – Oshrat Kotler and Neri Livneh – concerning Gilady’s behavior decades ago. Also this week, Yoram Zack, the producer and director of Keshet’s Big Brother reality show, was blasted for a letter he sent to staff seven years ago detailing personal fantasies regarding the female staff. Gilady issued a peculiar apology to Livneh’s charges in Haaretz, calling them “largely inaccurate,” while Zack apologized in his own way saying: “I thought at the time it was funny. Reading it now... makes me cringe with embarrassment.”
Incidentally, having exploited her younger brother, Refaeli reportedly will co-host the coming season of Big Brother. And she will no doubt continue to be seen in commercials on all the available stations. A few years ago, she even starred in a Super Bowl ad, kissing Walter the Nerd in a Go Daddy commercial, accompanied by what Time magazine called “some of the most unsettling wet sound effects this side of a Walking Dead zombie killing.”
Whatever turns you on. Or off. The viewer can zap stations, and the consumer is free to decide which products to purchase.
When Channel 2 was launched, nearly a quarter of a century ago, Israel’s advertising industry became excited about the new possibilities, such as car commercials, until then practically unheard of here. To whet our appetites, media reporters were given a video tape recording the submissions to an international advertising competition. Some were funny, some relied on fear, some were sexy, others cute. There were ads to entice viewers to buy things they didn’t need or couldn’t afford, but also public safety campaigns. As a lecturer in a Hebrew University course on advertising once pointed out to me, the persuasion techniques are the same. It’s what they are used for that differs.
Good advertising can be fun and informative; poor advertising leaves us with a bad taste, paying untold social costs. A pretty face does not compensate for an ugly message.
BAR REFAELI poses during a photo shoot for a fashion catalogue in Tel Aviv.