Poster campaign for Golden Globe winner, Jean Dujardin's next film, 'Les Infidèles', was pulled last Friday after it was deemed sexually explicit in France. But aside from possibly hindering the actor's chances at the Oscars, the public is appalled that such a campaign should have slipped through the net.
Audrey Richter, mother of three and living in Paris, often walks past certain film posters crossing her fingers that her two under-10s won't gawp at the picture. And it was the case with Les Infidèles: "Selling this sort of image to children from a young age isn't healthy. I don't want my boys to imagine that's what most women are like."
As soon as the poster campaign went up last Friday, the French advertising standards authority (ARPP) received reams of complaints from the public. The campaign shocked consumers, but the worst thing was having to explain the images to young children who asked questions along the lines of "Mummy, why is the naked lady hanging upside down?" said Stéphane Martin, director of the ARPP.
"It's not so much that people were annoyed about their children seeing the images, but more that they don't necessarily want to give them sex-education out in the street." he said.
The two poster designs were deemed sensitive by the ARPP and the entire campaign was pulled. Outdoor advertisers, Médiakiosque and JC Decaux, agreed to take the posters down and replace the campaign with an alternative. Mr. Martin said that the ARPP "thinks this campaign is contrary to the rules on the human image, even though they do have a link with the subject of the film".
The campaign comprised of two posters: one of a dishevelled Dujardin holding onto the ankles of a naked woman hanging upside down, with the slogan 'I'm walking into a meeting'. The second poster pictured co-star, Gilles Lellouche, on the phone with a lady's head covering his crotch and the caption 'The line's about to cut; I'm heading into a tunnel.'
Although the posters have been judged sexist in France, the issue of their explicit nature seems to have been brushed aside. Parents were shocked at how easily such a campaign could have been approved. "The posters are taken down once the nation complains. But the harm is already done. These kinds of posters are another media stunt to get the film more attention." said father of two, Gilles Gaspard. "There should be a process to approve the posters before they go up, not after."
But sexually provocative advertising isn't the public's only worry. Ms. Birchnall said that she is "often shocked at the posters advertising the latest films. Some are extremely bloody and one even lead to one of the children having nightmares."
Mr. Martin of ARPP said that there is no such mandatory screening process before the campaign is displayed, but that there are strict regulations in place that all advertisers are accustomed to following. The ARPP works on a membership basis. Its members comprise all kinds of advertisers, who usually call upon the organism if in doubt about a particular campaign. And this, prior to it going up. However, "JC Decaux and Médiakiosque didn't call us to approve the campaign." said Mr. Martin. "And they (the advertisers) admitted to having doubts about the 'Les Infidèles' campaign before it went up."
Contrarily to the parents of young children, Mr. Martin doesn't think a screening process prior to poster campaigns needs to be applied. "The 'Les Infidèles' campaign for example, did harm women's image, but it is the advertisers' responsibility to act within reason and this was not the case here." Although there was no penalty for breaching advertising regulation, having to take the posters down, reprint them and put them back up again is big enough punishment, said Mr. Martin.
The ARPP's job isn't to check every single advertisement that goes up in the streets or on the internet - which would be a near-impossible task to achieve due to the sheer volume, said Mr. Martin - but it is to make sure that advertisers don't infringe on personal freedom. The deciding factor in pulling down the Les Infidèles campaign was that explaining the posters to their children was imposed on parents, said Mr. Martin.
Paris isn't exactly known for being prude, but parents are becoming more and more concerned about the influences children are exposed to. "It's hard enough bringing up your children without being able to control their desire for things parents might deem unhealthy, especially with the progress of the internet" says parent Gilles Gaspard. "I don't want my children to grow up thinking that guns are normal, that violence is fun and that women are sexual objects. But that's what some film posters condone."
The campaign was relaunched with two new poster designs. The first shows Dujardin and Lellouche sitting with their pants around their ankles and in the second, the two men are standing with their trousers down and their hands covering their crotch area. "Although the posters are still a bit racy, at least there is no allusion to women being pleasure-providers in a society that is sexist enough." said Mrs. Richter.
The Washingon Post suggests that these kinds of posters could reflect a reaction to the Strauss-Kahn scandal. Previous IMF head, Dominique Strauss-Kahn gave French men an even worse international reputation and poster campaigns like that of Les Infidèles just accentuates a stereotype that isn't necessarily true. "Back home people do tend to have a strong image of the "sleazy" and womanising Frenchman, especially married ones," said Ms. Birchnall. "I am embarrassed to be a French man," said Mr. Gaspard. "We're not all sex-obsessed perverts who have multiple mistresses."
However, Mr. Martin of ARPP said that since France operates as a democracy, the ARPP must value freedom of expression for all parties including advertisers. "Advertising campaigns are about interpretation and this is difficult to manage. Otherwise we could apply strict censorship, but this would go against democratic values."