What you see above is one of the “outrageous” billboards which have appeared in Rimini, Italy, a few days ago. They are a creation of controversial artist Maurizio Cattelan commissioned by the municipality to celebrate the fading spirit of the city, the epitome of ‘beach holiday’ for half of Europe during the second half of the Twentieth century. The population didn’t take it especially well, but some Riminese seized the opportunity to start interesting discussions.
One of them is Andrea Cesaretti, a psychomarketing expert who fused his competences in finance and life coaching into a strange but fascinating job as “doctor for the soul of startups”, and is thus used to analyze the deeper meanings of whatever surrounds us.
This is the post he published on his website, where he interviewed me about the relations between unusual eroticism and advertising …
by Andrea Cesaretti
I have already written about how associating the words ‘Greetings from Rimini’ to Maurizio Cattelan’s pictures transfers them from the art world into that of advertising. ‘Greetings from Rimini’ isn’t directed to the city, but out of it.
I won’t criticize Cattelan’s artistic merits, but I wish to think about the meaning of this operation in marketing terms, with the help of the biggest expert of extreme eroticism: Ayzad, a “reformed journalist”, personal coach specializing in unusual sexualities and author of various interesting books you can learn about on his blog.
Question – Ayzad, in those pictures, or better in that campaign, I can glimpse some symbols going beyond the sphere of sex and eroticism advertising got us used to, recalling a fetish dimension. Am I sick, or do you see something similar in it as well?
Answer – Well, I am quite the pervert… but it is very hard not to notice the references to practices like pissing, sitophilia, messy and wet or – no matter how ironically – to BDSM. As a matter of fact all of these activities are to every extent a part of sex and they are much more common than you’d think, yet I share your perplexity about the sense of the whole operation.
Q – How should we interpret this shift from “sexual liberation” to extreme eroticism, like the fetishism expressed by Cattelan’s pictures? Is this the acceptance of the Jung principle of “get aware of your unconscious or the unconscious will lead your life”? Or is it more banally the aftereffect of the success of 50 Shades of Grey?
A – When we talk about sexual revolution we usually refer to the Sixties, with their feminism and the introduction of the contraceptive pill. They have been clearly very important events, which however from a historical and global perspective had smaller-ranging practical effects compared to our perception.
Conversely, the beginning of the Twentieth-first century opened the door to a “soft” sexual revolution characterized by several changing factors which entered our lives without shaking them up too much and without glaring labels attached to them. Taken one at a time they are limited, concerning relatively sparse groups and they often aren’t very visible to the general public – but when you consider them all as a whole you realize the enormous quantity of people they touch, instilling into them a far more serene, positive and varied concept of sexuality than any past ones.
This is why I believe we shouldn’t really talk about extreme eroticism, but of a wider vision of sex including both the Jungian rationalizations and the pervasive marketing of 50 shades and Grey, not to mention many other influences. What you get in the end is simply the metabolization of deviances: they aren’t seen as forbidden subjects anymore, but as beachside inanities – so much that Cattelan’s provocation raised more perplexity than scandal.
Q – Advertising used erotic references, or simply female and male nudes, long before the so-called “sexual liberation” of the Sixties. I am thinking, to quote a few off the top of my head, to Adolf Hohenstein’s 1905 billboard for a matches brand or to Adolfo De Carolis’ one for the 1911 International Exhibition in Torino. In 1905 again, Budweiser in America almost doubled its sales with a campaign featuring a nude Ganymede kidnapped by an eagle. The eagle was the beer’s logo, but also of the American nation and Ganymede was famously gay. Erotic advertising of every kind thus seems to have played an important role independently from the “sexual revolution” that only came much later. What do you think about it?
A – Many interesting studies tell us that erotic imagery in advertising has a double function. Nude figures and sensuality instinctively catch your attention, but the real reason why they drive sales up is the mental association between the idea of freedom implied in sex and the advertised product. In other words, it is like if the customer’s brain read: ‘buy this, and you will be free from oppressive social rules too’. The efficacy of such a message obviously depends on the level of repression in the public, which is why a century ago you could just associate your product to a nice ass, but in a less puritan era like ours you need to raise the bar and aim to stronger archetypes. This is also why with thime we moved from a vague idea of “dirty games” to fetishistic non sequiturs, to more or less ironic explicit scenes, to the direct usage of BDSM scenarios – indifferently employed to sell tabasco, cars, air travels or nuts.
Q – All right. Advertising guru Armando Testa however mantained that ‘too much sex acts as a vampire, sucking the client’s attention away from the product’. In fact, I was taught that erotic imagery in advertising is just a distraction, unless there is an identity between the product and the image. An example would be Durex’s sex lube campaign where the man used the product to stop his bedsprings from creaking. What do you think of the identity between Cattelan’s work and the “Rimini” product?
A – This is where my perplexity begins. Now that the mega-discoteques era is ended and that the stereotype of German female tourists hunting for their latin lovers has long been surpassed, Rimini is perceived as a cheap holiday destination for families. If the intention was of relaunching the very Riminese idea of sex and food updating to its 3.0 version, I’m afraid the message appears more quaint than fun; however, if it really was a purely artistic provocation… maybe they should rethink their concept of provocation a bit.
Truth to be said, the “sex and tourism” couple is a very hard one. Mere weeks ago we saw it in the
Berceto accident, where the mayor of a small village clumsly advertised it with the picture of a female butt raising harsh criticisms. The most telling aspect of it all was the man’s reaction, who just couldn’t fathom why sex imagery is commonly accepted in advertising but in his case. Clearly, the idea that an institution cannot use a sordid Maccio Capatonda–style (a comedian satirizing the idiocy of some Italians) communication is too alien to post-Berlusconi Italy.
Q – Talking about Jung again, another rule of good advertising is to leverage a psycho-cultural tension such as a personal crisis or a cultural orthodoxy, to focus on an archetypal figure to emotionally point the way to resolve that tension. Back to the Durex lube example, its psycho-cultural tension was “sex is a taboo” and the man was the archetype of the “joking lover”. From this point of view, is Cattelan’s campaign any good to you? What is its tension to overcome and what is the archetype?
A – I’m afraid that the message intent was ‘times have changed, but Rimini still is the capital of transgression and good humor’, as if they escalated both the idea of summer flings and Riminese smarts. Was it «here you can indulge in your most unusual fantasies… but we are offering you the alibi of hiding them behind a joke», then? In that case it could really work on those who, for age reasons, didn’t catch the revolution we mentioned above: women and men – but especially the latter – 55 and over. Let’s call it senior marketing and pretend it was a genius move, shall we?
At the end of the day I suspect this story only has one certainty. Ignoring the rich variety of sexuality is now impossible, but trying to rein the energy from this diversity in by using obsolete mental schemes is equally hard, if not even counterproductive. Maybe we all should better give in and learn the rules of this new millennium, thus finally living eroticism in serenity, shouldn’t we?
Andrea – I agree, also because your question touches a topic I deal with as a life coach. We must take care of ourselves to live a serene and fulfilling life. This often requires changing our attitude toward eroticism and, if needed, to face and solve the issues that “block” us in this topic. Let’s not forget that eroticism is an integral part of ourselves, and a serene attitude toward it is a keystone for our personal balance.