Monday, February 28, 2011

Adult Content?

A couple of things have happened recently that made me go "hmmm..."

Last Thursday, as I waited to board at the Ottawa Airport, I was reading through my favourite ad blogs when I received a strongly-worded pop-up about violating the free Wi-Fi terms of use regarding "adult content". The site? Copyranter.

This morning, I saw that Adland, another favourite, has just lost all of its Google Adsense placements because of "adult content".

I have had a couple of panics lately when Osocio posts that contain nudity (considered completely acceptable in the advertising world) have had embedded images picked up and published on Facebook by the site's automatic updater. (And all we know what a hate-on Facebook has for breasts. Especially non-sexified ones.)

Finally, I have received plenty of "feedback" (most sarcastic, but some sincere) about posts on this blog which contain nudity or sexual contexts.

What a harmless, wholesome and family-friendly ad might look like.
This got me thinking about what "adult content" means. Usually, it is an implied euphemism for porn. But in all of the cases above, sexualized content was usually used in the context of a grown-up discussion about the use of sex in advertising. In many cases, the posts are critiques of lazy, exploitative, and even offensive "sexy" ads.

"Dabitch", the outspoken voice of Adland, faced a 72 hour deadline to "clean up" her site after Google was alerted to an old post criticizing an ad by underwear advertiser Sloggi, which contained an image of bare bums.

Taking the high road, Dabitch said "if we're going to be able to talk about advertising here, some of [the ads] will have butts and boobs in them, and often be harshly criticized because they do."

But that is not the way Big Internet thinks, apparently. The mature attitudes about sexuality of Europeans (and some Canadians, and New Yorkers, and others) are crashing into the wall of America's "won't somebody please think about the children" anxiety.

The argument is that this is a public forum: "There are kids on here, for God's sake!" But then again, these are the same kids who are exposed to the very ads we critique. If they are going to see T&A anyway, at least we provide instructional context on how to tell the difference between sexual exploitation and body-positive normalization. (Plus, I doubt any child would bother to visit an ad blog just for the nudity — there are much better ways to get around a net nanny.)

This might be pornography. I saw "Lawless" in the title.
My six-year-old surfs YouTube, and sometimes Google Images. I filter his searches, but still sit over his shoulder so I can click away or explain any awkward discoveries. (But then again, he's seen his mom and me naked, and it's no big deal to him.) Look: The internet is a rough neighbourhood. Why would you let a little kid wander around it alone?

And then there's the "NSFW" argument. Once again, let's talk about context. If your employer is okay with you taking time at work to read an ad blog, it probably counts as professional development. And ad professionals — whether agency, client, or production — cannot afford to be prudes. We are in the business of playing with powerful human ideas, instincts and emotions. We can't avert our eyes from a frank discussion of one of the greatest and most persuasive forces of all.

So let's take a look at that term, "adult content". If I wanted to be disingenuous, I'd say "makes sense... this is content suitable for a mature audience!"

But we all know what it really means: porn, smut, and at best "erotica". It's part of the unfortunate epidemic of black-and-white, zero-tolerance thinking that rules certain societies these days. Everything is either "wholesome" or "dirty". (Interesting to note how often casual violence and hate ends up on the "wholesome" side, isn't it?)

I simply don't think that way. If today's burning ad issue is something with nudity in it, you may see some skin. I hope you aren't permanently psychologically damaged by it. I'm trying to have an adult conversation here.


  1. 'The argument is that this is a public forum: "There are kids on here, for God's sake!" But then again, these are the same kids who are exposed to the very ads we critique.'


  2. Yes, I agree, that's so very on the money. I've not liked using Google Adsense anyway, it's cumbersome and a pain on a good day, and I know that disputing a band would take ages. I have better things to do with my time than set the record straight here.

    The delicious irony is that some ad bloggers dare not write about this, as their google adsense accounts are likely to get yanked if they draw attention to themselves. It's very likely that adland was simply reported.

  3. No worries. I can't even speak a word of Swedish that isn't a brand name ;)

  4. My daughter was a big fan of the Naked Brothers Band (an innocent teen boys band) and she was collecting many images of them :-)

  5. Just tried a Google search on 'Sloggi' with the strict SafeSearch options. Never saw so much bums in one screen in my whole life.