"Sex sells" used to be advertising's first commandment, but its impact is fading. The public seem to long for a more innocent time as sex meets stiff competition from pets. We live in an age where Britney Spear's steamy 'Slave for You' video, with 18 million views on YouTube, is out done by a sneezing baby panda - watched nearly 200 million times. Even making an appearance at the Liverpool Biennale as part of Daniel Bozhkov's art installation, this panda proves the craze for cute creatures has leaked into the fabric of contemporary culture - both high and low. So, why this shift in interest, from sex to pets?
Throughout the '90s, sex was everywhere: Madonna released her raunchy 'Justify my Love' video and a fresh faced Kate Moss shot to fame through the intimate Calvin Klein Obsession adverts. Back then sex was novel and exciting, but twenty years on we're so comfortable with explicit sexuality that imagery has to be ever more shocking to get our attention.
Robin Thicke embraced blatant titillation in his most recent video, 'Blurred Lines'. Putting pressure on sexual boundaries, he left nothing to the imagination- his dancers pranced around bare breasted, wearing only nude colored thongs while Thicke and Pharrell leered on fully clothed.
Although it may seem that society is becoming less prudish, singers like Thicke release clean, child friendly versions of their videos alongside more raunchy, explicit editions - keen to include the huge numbers of young people online. Like any other brand, Thicke realized that he has to keep the social media generation hooked for his music to be passed around. Forbes journalist, Scott Goodson explains the value of the youth market: "capture their interest and they'll be your ideal customer, spreading your message like wildfire amongst their peers whilst being fiercely loyal to your brand".
However companies must navigate the online world of Facebook, its social etiquette and censorship policies. Even if a risqué advert can sneak its way onto, what are meant to be, nudity free newsfeeds, Facebook users are unlikely to share something overtly sexual. Many people are still ashamed of sex and no one wants their friends and acquaintances to label them a pervert.
A good example of the power of social media can be seen in the rankings of the 2013 Super Bowl adverts. USA Today's Ad Meter declared that the Budweiser Clydesdale commercial was the most successful. The advert focused on a close relationship between a horse and its trainer, ending with a teary eyed reunion. In stark comparison, Calvin Klein's Concept commercial ranked least popular. Their choice of model - a muscular Adonis wearing only CK branded pants - was certainly not "share" friendly.
Following in the footsteps of Budweiser, brands are beginning to realize the power of animals to appeal to a wider audience. When democracy defines taste, pets are sure winners because they are accessible to a huge demographic. Appealing to people of all ages, sexuality, religion and gender, animals are stripped of political or sexual agenda - indulging a growing sense of public apathy and irreverence. But the use of animals in advertising is not exclusive to household brands, like mobile network 3 who's moon-walking Shetland pony was a viral hit. Luxury, and significantly fashion, brands also use pets to their advantage.
Cats are being used more and more by designer labels: Bulgari's SS11 advertising campaign saw lion and tiger cubs nestle in the arms of its models and Chanel's AW11 campaign featured Danish Model Freja Beha Erichsen dressed up as a cat - complete with ears and whiskers. Prada responded to the Grumpy Cat viral video with a spoof advert introducing their own grumpy cat and even earlier, in 2009, Lanvin were using cats to promote their AW collection.
Karl Lagerfeld, creative director of Chanel and Fendi, goes a step further; creating an online persona for his cat, Choupette. White and fluffy, Choupette has her own Facebook page and her Twitter account has over 30,000 followers. Hundreds of people at once "like" images of her sleeping or sat next to a magazine with the caption, "I can't read" and recently, she was "interviewed" in French Gala Magazine. With pet pandemonium in full swing, Karl's decision to release the Choupette collection, featuring cat themed accessories, reveals a savvy engagement with popular culture.
We are bored of sex, and pets are our new eye candy. With internet users always looking for debate, pets offer an easy alternative prompting involuntary "awws" from a hugely diverse audience. The intense popularity of photogenic pets stems from the underworld of Reddit, Facebook and other social sites but today they've outgrown their humble beginnings, taking over the worlds of advertising and fashion.
This article was originally posted on Dada Magazine.
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