When people talk about commercial icons, the Creepy Burger King is roundly considered the most unsettling. Awhile back, though, there was one I thought was worse: Smiling Bob.
Bob was a youngish retro white-collar fella who was always grinning due to his great big elephantine penis, which kept his wife happy and even impressed his business associates. This was all thanks to Enzyte, the herbal male enhancement drug for which Bob was the front man.
God, how I hated him. He looked like the guy none of the neighbors would be surprised to find drunk in their tool shed in a rubber diaper … again. And though I’m sure his David Lynchian presence is part of why I remember him, it’s also because he was on TV as the face of a male sexual enhancement product, and was on often enough to make an impact.
Compare that to the story of Zestra Essential Arousal Oils, a female sexual enhancement product targeting women of a certain age: those too old to know much about Katy Perry but too young to be embalmed. My age.
Zestra has an attractive, informative, sensible commercial featuring a few nice-lady-next-door type actresses speaking with refreshing frankness about how age and childbirth have changed their level of sexual interest and how they miss their libidos. After a description of how Zestra works—it’s a topically applied blend of botanicals that enhances sensitivity to touch—they talk about how much it’s increased their satisfaction and has made them sexual Benjamin Buttons, restoring their feelings of youthful arousal and reviving their sex lives. It’s made them happy.
The ad is no more adult or racy than anything you’ve seen on Oprah. Indeed, Dr. Hilda Hutcherson gave the product a ringing endorsement on the Rachel Ray Show, which you can see on Zestra’s website.
The "offending" ad. Watch at your own risk!
So the product already been on TV, somewhere between your morning commute and your first latte break, and yet the marketers of Zestra tried about 100 TV stations and could only get the ad placed at SoapNet and Discovery Health. Other stations either relegated it to time slots when no one would see it, requested changes or said that no changes would make it appropriate, according to The New York Times.
Honestly, are we that big a bunch of pansies? Paris Hilton’s quasi-porn for Burger King is okay (Advertising Age’s “Sexualized Sandwiches” says it all).
Smiling Bob and his male enhancement product was okay, but we can’t take a mature discussion about women, moms even, wanting sex? After all getting laid is how they became moms. They might remember it fondly and want to try it again (bet they use birth control this time). It’s so dispiriting that there never seems to be anything adult about the way adult issues are handled in 2010 America.
In the long run, though, I wonder if those prudish stations did Zestra a favor.
Like most people I haven’t watched a TV commercial on purpose since I got DVR. When it comes to that remote and getting past the ads I have a faster trigger finger than Doc Holliday. In 2008 AOL Tech reported on a study that said 85 percent of 1,000 global participants skipped three-quarters of TV ads. This year, The Guardian UK reported that 86 percent of Brits zipped through commercials—even while declaring them the most memorable type of advertising.
Even when I do remember an ad, I seldom recall the product being advertised. I remembered Smiling Bob, but had to look up the name Enzyte. I remember the Creepy Burger King, but I haven’t eaten at a BK since I was in London 10 years ago and tried their “Baked Bean Dippers”—which were like fries, only with baked beans in them (and were the only bad food I had in England, including, yes Ma’am, the yummy Spotted Dick).
Had Zestra been on TV, I’d probably never have heard of it. Instead Zestra made it to the worldwide water cooler, and now here I am talking about it online, as are many others.
I can tell you that in a 2010 clinical trial for Zestra that 70 percent of the test subjects, age 21 to 65 reported that it improved sexual satisfaction. I can also tell you about a University of Texas study which reported that even women on the placebo in one clinical trial of a female sexual enhancement drug (though it doesn’t say which) showed some improved satisfaction thanks to being encouraged to communicate more about sex. (Imagine, women being excited by communication. Wake the Nobel Committee!)
When female friends tell me they’re having troublingly low libidos, the things I usually recommend are sensuous, indulgent, prolonged self-stimulation and also doing something … anything … that you’re good at because confidence is a brilliant aphrodisiac and wherever you have it in life you can bring it to bed. But I’m also likely to remember Zestra and mention it as well.
So, I’m no Pollyanna but maybe Zestra’s brush with discrimination will end up having a silver lining—or in its case, a rich, rosy, fulsome, highly sensitized and happy one.