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A Taste of the Forbidden – Coca Cola’s ‘Pool Boy’

Mark Simpson on the sweet fetishism of Coca Cola’s ‘delightfully slutty soda ad’

How much Coca Cola ads have changed since the famous singalong, smiley, folksy, innocence of the famous 1971 commercial! How much the world has changed. If it were remade today you’d be forgiven for thinking that song would have to be retitled: ‘I’d Like to Teach the World to Perve (In Perfect Harmony)’.

‘Pool Boy’, the latest ad in Coca Cola’s current ‘Taste the Feeling’ campaign, has prompted a veritable geyser of complimentary press for its ‘gay-friendliness’. But there’s quite a bit more going on than just ‘gay friendliness’ in this delightfully slutty soda commercial (and Coca Cola have anyway done ‘gay friendly’ before).

So I think it’s worth undressing it. Even more.

Central to understanding what’s going on here is grasping, firmly, yet caressingly, that this is a Diet Coke ad – albeit without Diet Coke (though it does feature, briefly, a Coca Cola Light – a name used for Diet Coke in many markets). All the elements of the classic Diet Coke ads are here. The Hunk toils in the heat, his muscular, ripped body glistening, all drunk in thirstily by women, the camera, and the viewers.

Diet Coke aimed until now at women (apparently only women dieted in the past), effectively identified itself in the Chippendale/Take That 1990s with the emergence of active, assertive, voyeuristic female sexuality and passive, exhibitionistic male sexuality. This was updated and ‘refreshed’ a few years ago with ‘The Gardner’. In it a group of young, slim, attractive women, sitting on a small hill in a park, perve over a young, fit, attractive man cutting the grass below them, offering him a sabotaged can of Diet Coke that ejaculates all over him when opened, ‘forcing’ him to take his shirt off.

Coke are reportedly now taking a ‘one brand’ approach to their products, and ‘Pool Boy’ is in effect a globally-targeted (hence no dialogue) ‘Diet Coke’ ad for Coca Cola products in general – in which the ante is even further ‘upped’. In ‘Pool Boy’ the porno promo aesthetic of ‘The Gardner’ is still very much present and erect, but the ‘Ladies’ voyeuring are a teen girl and her mother. And her teen brother.

The definition of ‘Diet Coke Ladies’ has now been widened to include The Gays. Who of course were always part of the unspoken audience anyway. After all, Diet Coke ads have long been using the tropes of gay porn to sell product to women, and the phenomenon of straight women and gay best friends sharing their appreciation of – and disappointment with – men is widely established now.

‘Pool Boy’ begins with the camera lingering over The Hunk, his shredded, smooth body shiny with sweat and Baby Oil, flashing out of his unbuttoned uniform – as he works his big pole in a suburban American swimming pool under the blazing American sun. He’s being admired out of the window by a pretty, skinny teen girl, who is eagerly distracted from her studies – her head propped up daintily on her fingertips, smiling broadly.

Then the camera pans upwards to show a pretty, skinny, similar-looking young man doing exactly the same thing from an upstairs window (the traditional lofty vantage point of Diet Coke Ladies), with the exact same rapt, pretty smile and the same head dainty head-propping. So we assume it’s her Gay Brother – though of course he could be bi, or trans.

Straight (another assumption) Sister glances at her No Sugar Coke, has a Eureka moment, and rushes off, practically spilling her homework onto the floor. The next shot is from inside the big American fridge in the big American kitchen, as she opens the door. Coke bottles are displayed across a whole shelf (as products are in adland). I make out, with some freeze-framing, two ‘No Sugar’, two ‘Original Taste’, one ‘Light’ and one ‘Life’. The entire Coca Cola range – though ‘Diet’ is here represented by ‘Light’, in this global ad.

Coke’s future is Diet – which is itself reportedly becoming ‘gender agnostic’ after all these years of being marketed as ‘one for the ladies’. Likewise, ‘No Sugar Coke’ which replaces poorly performing Coke Zero – or ‘Bloke Zero’ as it was dubbed after its launch in 2006 – seems now to also to be ‘gender agnostic’ after all that money spent trying to tell us it wasn’t for girls. Straight Sister in ‘Pool Boy’ is drinking No Sugar.

Meanwhile, back inside that big American fridge, straight Sister, a wild gleam in her eye, grabs an Original Taste Coke. But Gay Brother has obviously had the same idea – at that moment he appears behind her grabbing the same bottle. The aroused, intense looks on their faces makes clear that the slippery Coke bottle symbolises objectified, pool/fuck boy. Straight Sister finally wrenches it out of Gay Brother’s hand and rushes off.

A dejected Gay Brother then grabs the other bottle of Original Taste (going out of his way not to grab a bottle of No Sugar) and chases after his sister.

They race through the large, suburban house, tripping one another up, before finally arriving at the pool. Only to find The Mother already offering The Hunk a plate of sandwiches, while he glugs a bottle of Original Taste Coca Cola (which magically refills when cutting to The Mother shrugging), his Adam’s apple moving suggestively in his muscular, shiny throat above his muscular shiny chest as he poses rather uncomfortably, to show off his body to best effect.

Mother gives a shrug to her kids, who are staring at her in shock and defeat. This isn’t her first time at the rodeo.

It’s a funny, well-made and provocative ad that is memorable in an age where everything is instantly forgettable, that succeeds in making a beleaguered brand – sales in the US are falling, and are stagnant in the UK – seem sexy and now.

But I was left with a burning question. Why is everyone – sister, brother, mother – so sure the pool boy drinks Original Taste Coke? And don’t think to ask him, especially since they have a fridge full of different varieties?

Perhaps it’s because The Hunk is a Real Man  doing Real Work so he must drink Original Full Fat Sugary Coke. Even when the body being admired belongs to a raging spornosexual and is clearly the result of religious gym attendance and meticulously planned diet programs.

Likewise, although the desires of the women and the gay brother are emphasised, the wants and tastes of The Hunk are irrelevant. He’s an object, a fetish. He’ll swallow whatever he’s given, no gag reflex.

The house, its furnishings and the cast’s clothes are set in an imaginary, ironic 1950s-70s – Coke’s heyday. Long before the demonization of sugar as sinful and Satanic. The only modern things allowed are the pool cleaning machine, the fridge and the loose sexual mores (and No Sugar Coke). Even the soundtrack is a sweetly romantic Italian song from the 1950s. Most retro of all: everyone is white. Even the pool boy.

Fizzy, sugary drinks have lost their soda fountain innocence. They have increasingly been blamed for a host of health problems, including most particularly the worsening obesity epidemic. An ugly problem that of course doesn’t exist anywhere in this ad. Everyone here is slim and sugar-free.

In part because of moves to tax sugary drinks to discourage their consumption, Coke Zero has recently been rebranded as No Sugar Coke – to emphasise that it doesn’t have any of the naughty stuff (lots of people didn’t realise the ‘Zero’ stood for calories). With a reformulated taste that is supposedly ‘even more like the original!’

Which is the tagline to the simulacrum of 21st Century life. Along with ‘taste the feeling’.

Given all this, perhaps the real porn in this ad isn’t where it appears to be after all. Perhaps the real reason The Mother and The Straight Sister and The Gay Brother, who are all slim but leisured and middle class, scramble to offer the sweating, pumped proletarian an Original Taste Coke isn’t because they want to play with his pole. It’s much more depraved than that.

They want to watch someone actually drink a proper sugary coke and enjoy its wicked sinfulness vicariously and voyeuristically – and calorie-free. Sugar porn.

Not to mention removing the sweet temptation from their fridge before they glug it down themselves.


Sassy Misandry: Abusing Men isn’t ‘Bloomin’ Awesome!’

Mark Simpson on how beating up on men has become a painful corporate cliche

(Originally appeared in The Daily Telegraph, 01/11/2016)

Does the empowerment of women need to take the form beating up on men? And isn’t it anyway something of self-defeating strategy?

These are the questions often lurking in the back of my mind when I read one of those sassy columns that seem to be a list of insults hurled at men – or MEN! – as a sex. But I usually think twice about voicing them.

Apart from anything else, even though it’s almost never stated, it’s straight men as a sex that are in the crosshairs. Since I’m not terribly straight, and thus not exactly a fully paid up member of the patriarchy, it’s generally wise for me to keep my head, er, down in the (hetero)sex war.

But then I saw this ‘Own the Day’ TV ad for women’s clothing chain Bonmarché, currently airing on UK prime time, which seems to go one sassy step further – suggesting that casual assault on men by women is “bloomin’ awesome!”. And funny.

That couldn’t be the case, could it? I re-watched it a couple of times, hoping to have my humourless, censorious first impressions dashed.

I really don’t want to be an advertising traffic warden.

But the more times you watch the ad, the clearer the implication is. Female ’empowerment’ is about giving men a good, slapstick pasting. In addition, of course, to buying clothes from Bonmarché.

Although the pasting is presented as ‘accidental’ – it’s obviously not meant to be taken that way. It all happens to men. As a result of women’s ‘empowered’ behaviour.

In the space of just 30 seconds, three ‘ladies’ (the form of address the ad itself adopts) trip a male jogger, slam a café door into a man holding a smoothie, knock a phone out of a man’s hand into his coffee, cause a male waiter carrying a tray to slip and fall, thump a male diner in the head with a large handbag, and slap the hand of another (apparently) male diner trying to attract the attention of the already downed male waiter.

Without breaking a sweat. Or even noticing.

Of course, the ostensible message is that women should pay no heed to men or anxieties about body image when they buy clothes, and in effect just dress for themselves – ‘this is me and I feel bloomin’ awesome’. Or as the blurb on the Bonmarché website puts it: “’Own the Day’ is all about empowering women and inspiring confidence.”

Which is great. Or it would be if it weren’t for the way that men have to pay for this sentiment.

The feel-good message of confidence is completely undermined by the hypocritical execution – in effect, the ad is all about men. About beating them up.

One of the men in the ad, with the possible exception of the male jogger gawping at lady #1 declaiming to camera, did anything to warrant being slapped, tripped or thumped on the head. Except perhaps the crime of possessing a penis. They were all happily minding their own business. Or waiting tables.

In fact, it begins to look like the men are being punished for not paying attention to the women. So maybe I would have got a handbag in the back of the head, too.

Yes, it’s ‘just a silly ad’, frantically trying to draw attention to itself. And yes, the ad also seems to be making fun slightly of its own language of empowerment – perhaps because in the end it’s a commercial, not a political statement.

But the bottom line appears to be that a spot of misandry – contempt for men as a sex – is good for business.

I’m not suggesting the ad should be protested or banned – though there would be with enormous kerfuffle if the genders were reversed. But I would suggest that the ad is an indication that sassy misandry, once justified as a ‘necessary corrective’ to the patriarchy and women’s subjugation, is so common these days it has become a corporate cliché.

Which in turn would suggest that it’s no longer quite so necessary – that instead it’s shaded into abuse. And that’s not very empowering. Or ‘bloomin’ awesome’. Whatever that is.

Dreamy Scaffies at Premier Inn

Premier Inn appear to have launched a builder-themed gay night. Or a Top Gun-themed builder night.

Either way, I’m checking in.

This hilarious, very smart new TV ad ‘Scaffolders’ for the budget UK hotel chain is currently airing nationally – not just in Manchester’s gay village. It masterfully deploys the famous Kenny Loggins ‘Highway To the Danger Zone’ MOR track from the classic 1986 Tom Cruise fighter ace movie, along with some of the iconic/camp styles, shots and heavy filters to synthesise an entirely convincing Top Gun-ness. In a provincial Premier Inn. With scaffolders standing in for the flyboys, and JCB’s standing in for the F-15s.

Though the opening scene, in which a naked ‘Maverick’ rubs his pumped chest and possibly erect nipples in ecstasy while enjoying a ‘power shower’, would probably have been too slutty even for Top Gun, the movie that gave a catapult launch to the process of shameless sexualisation of the male body, climaxing in today’s spornosexuality.

The famous homoeroticism of that flyboy movie (our changing attitude to which I analysed on its 30th birthday earlier this year) is also referenced. For a moment you – or was it just me? – think the hairy ‘daddy’ builder waking up in the ‘kingsize Hypnos bed’ has spent the night with the young sporno scaffie taking that sensual shower.

Top Gun‘s ‘gayness’ is now an officially cherished part of our culture. ‘Whatever your story’. Or sexuality.

It’s a nice touch as well that the other builders are of various, more realistic shapes and sizes – but the sporno scaffie is definitely the star of this ‘movie’. Which is probably about right. After all, scaffolders are often the most agile, gymnastic even, of builders and are very much at the showbiz end of the ‘trade’. The scaffold they’re ‘erecting’ is also something of a stage, and whether to get some rays or to get looks – or both – scaffies often seem keen to strip down to their shorts, boots and hard-hats the moment the weather gets above freezing. Though I’m sure there must be some scaffolders who dislike the way the public perves on them….

‘Gay’ builders seem to be all the rage on UK TV at the moment. The price comparison website Moneysupermarket recently launched ‘Epic Squads’, featuring bearish male builders and half-cross-dressed businessmen with big booties in a ‘gender flip’ twerktastic dance-off.

Moneysupermarket’s previous ad, ‘Dave’s Epic Strut‘ featuring a lone male middle-aged twerker in a jacket and tie and denim skirt and heels shaking his money maker at baffled passers-by was the most complained about ad of 2015. The Advertising Standards Authority failed to uphold these complaints – the cleverness of the ad is that it is quite ‘shocking’ and very memorable in an age of instant amnesia and e-distraction. But is funny rather than actually offensive. As well as, perhaps accidentally, managing to say something about changing gender roles, male versatility and the rise of the sexualised male body/booty.

Either way they seem to have aimed to up the stakes here. As Bob the Builder might have said: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – just shake it harder, honey.


Habitual Voyeur

Is it just me?

‘We all look but only some of us see’ is the slightly pretentious tagline for this new ‘Home Alone’ TV ad for the UK household furnishing store Habitat, part of their #HabitatVoyeur campaign.

Perhaps I’ve been doing too much ‘voyeuring’ online, but what I see when I look at the beginning of this ad, before the camera pulls back, is an aroused young man enjoying a hard furnishing – the head thrown back, the open mouth, the ecstatic bouncing, the Habitat pillows in the background.

Mind you, given the pervey conceit of the campaign – gawping through people’s windows, and the fact the previous ad had us spying on a couple snogging on an expensive sofa – maybe I’m not seeing too much. Maybe I’m seeing exactly what I was supposed to see.

Perhaps that’s why, when the camera dollies out and reveals the chap is, in fact dancing around his retro-hipster studio flat in his red socks and pants rather than doing a reverse cowboy, he appears to knowingly tease us by doing a spot of twerking in the full-length mirror before bopping into the bathroom, backwards.

Either way, I don’t think I’ll be dreaming of that coffee table.

Lucozade Ad Warns How Beards Make Everyone Look The Same

Even if they are wearing numbered, different-coloured shirts.

Well, can you come up with a better explanation what the rugger-buggery is going on in this slightly creepy latex-laden ad for Lucozade Sport ‘Strictly for the Home Nations Only’?

Pegged to the 2015 Rugby World Cup in Twickenham and starring big buff bearded England captain Chris Robshaw and chums, I’ve watched it several times and it still makes no sense to me. Maybe it’s because I don’t follow rugby. Or maybe it’s because I’m not an advertising creative who pretends to follow rugby.

The alternative explanations seem kinda kinky-gimpy. Are we meant to wonder what really went down in the back of that minivan when those norty Wallaby wannabes were cornered in the underground car park? By those strapping England lads wearing muscle-tees and expressionless faces? All that bad acting should definitely carry a Triga warning.

Yes, of course, the ‘straight’ subliminal commercial message here, hedged around with misfiring humour, is that if you drink Lucozade Sport, a sugary ‘recovery drink’, you will look like Robshaw. This is generally the way the supplements industry works – some ads more explicitly than others. But I’m not sure that ‘acceptable’ message isn’t drowned out here by more disturbing/confusing ones. Masculinity as male impersonation – a Mission Impossible. (This, after all, is what team sports fans are doing when they wear a replica shirt.)

I admit I’m biased: the recent fashion for styled-beard-with-styled-hair looks to me like a hairy onesie, a mullet mask. One that I imagine wearers peeling off at the end of the day, breathing a sigh of relief, applying lots of wet wipes to their face and neck – and leaving it to soak in a bucket by the bed.

Mind you, I still totally would ‘wear’ Robshaw.

PS This web ad below from the same campaign is also v confusing – but who cares?

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