Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Coppertone's Bum Wrap

Pales By Comparison

Coppertone is currently running a nostalgic broadcast ad wherein it asks (supposed) random people to smell their tanning lotion and tell them what it reminds them of. This is a boomer-centric success from that standpoint and a testament to the documented strength of the olfactory memory vs other types of memory.

In some of the 'on the street' interviews their classic little girl/dog ads are even positioned strategically within the frame, in the background.

So iconic, established and omnipresent in the culture was this girl/dog motif, that it was often parodied broadly in our culture.

Coppertone's "Don't Be a Paleface" tagline derived from the fact that it's original branding involved an Indian chief. Well, sometime in the 1950's (perhaps) a higher level of consciousness regarding the racist nature of the branding took hold. Coppertone's agency cleverly retooled the campaign, creating the now iconic image of the little girl with dog playfully tugging at her suit, revealing her tan line and her baby bum. 'Paleface', get it?

So identifiable was this tableau to the brand that there were (at one time) building signs around the country, resembling the one from Miami below, that were mechanically animated so that the dog would pull down the girl's suit over and over and over.

But something happened. In 2009 pharma giant Merck bought Shering-Plough, the maker of Coppertone (and other assets), for $41.1 billion. Then, sometime between then and now (maybe then Merck CEO, Richard Clark was a prude?) adjustments were made to our much-loved little girl and her 'paleface' was eliminated from view in the advertising. This was disconcertingly evident in the broadcast ads, though it made no sense, for we saw her bum in the retro ads, seen in the interviews, but then it was covered up in the signature.

 That someone thought a baby's bum, and a bum we have been seeing in public for nearly 60 years, was suddenly crass?, offensive?, suggestive?, erotic? ––is a disturbing notion. Then what of the poor black spaniel dog? Was he euthanized for his repeated transgressions? The whole thing seems absurd. I say "Bring Back the Bum!"

"Bad dog! Bad dog!"  The expurgated version. The little girl isn't even tan!

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