The garden has been tilled as a metaphor for millennia. But never has it been exploited quite as baldly as in a controversial advertising campaign for a new Schick Quattro women’s razor. “Mow the lawn!” is the title of one of the spots—though it’s quickly apparent it’s not grass being shorn. The ad’s spunky singsong jingle is crammed with pubic-grooming double entendres: “It feels great to trim the hedges!”; “Spruce up your Aphrodite”; plus a reference to “tulips on the mound.” Racial stereotypes also abound: a black woman in an Afro wields huge clippers and sings: “Some bushes are mighty big”; an Asian woman trims a bonsai and sings: “Some gardens are mighty small.” And for those who prefer their heavy-handed metaphors mixed, a white woman pats a shaved cat at the end.
The campaign has become a sensation since its online launch earlier this month, which isn’t surprising: it’s the final frontier for a product that has evolved only marginally since Gillette introduced the Milady Décolletée razor for women in 1915. Schick launched its latest model, which has a razor at one end and a battery-operated “bikini trimmer” at the other, last December at a splashy event in New York featuring a burlesque performer.
Like burlesque, the subject of pubic grooming is no longer shocking, given the mainstreaming of porn and the arrival of bare-it-all Brazilian waxing. Sex and the City discussed it. So did the 2001 movie Lovely and Amazing, in which an insecure actress asks her lover to critique her body. “The bush needs a trim,” he advises.
Still, a prudery remains that harks back to the famous story of the 19th-century British art critic John Ruskin fainting on his wedding night upon seeing his bride’s pubic hair (until then, he’d seen the naked female form only in statuary). Jeff Chapman, the global director of brand communications for Schick-Wilkinson Sword, says the challenge was to create a “light, engaging” campaign “to somewhat diffuse the risk of offending people.” The company chose not to sell the product as men’s razors are sold—in terms of performance or practicality. Instead, a female-centric creative team at JWT New York milked innuendo to the point of camp (to view, see Macleans.ca/topiary). Recognizing that the Web offered greater latitude, they posted “Mow the Lawn” and another spot virally on the French, U.K., and German Wilkinson Sword websites. Print and TV spots in the U.S. are tamer: the TV ad “Bushes” shows women passing by shrinking topiary with the voice-over: “Now it’s easy to shave, trim, and transform with the flick of a handle.” The print spot would bewilder Ruskin: it features a statue with neatly trimmed foliage offering strategic coverage. (The company hasn’t decided whether it will launch the razor in Canada.)
The ads quickly hit YouTube, then influential sites such as Gawker.com and DailyBeast.com. Response has been divided: some find them clever and witty, others creepy, racist and offensive. Salon.com’s women’s blog was withering: “Once again, a crushingly homogeneous aesthetic is aimed squarely at the root of our sexual being,” wrote Mary Elizabeth Williams. She called the “groundskeeping” metaphor “bracingly repellent,” noting: “The hedge maze in The Shining was well-tended too, and look how that turned out.”
But it doesn’t matter whether viral buzz is positive or negative; it’s only crucial that it exist, says Rob Tarry, associate creative director of Rethink in Vancouver. “I rarely watch more-than-30-second ads on television,” he admits. “And it reached me as an everyday consumer surfing Salon.com.” Still, he would have preferred the ads offer specific product benefits: “I welcome the humour; I love the client’s bravery. I wish it was not quite so crass and a little bit more insightful.”
He points to last year’s radio campaign for Philips’ Bodygroom men’s electric shaver created by DDB Toronto, which employed a garden metaphor more deftly. In one of the ads, a male announcer intones: “Due to the sensitive nature, we cannot discuss the benefits” of the product. Instead, “gardening tips” are offered: “Nothing says ‘I care’ more than a well-kept garden . . .” purrs a woman with a British accent. “Length is up to you, but the shorter you go, the more that tree out front will impress.”
That campaign won awards, and sold razors. So may the Schick spots, even though their focus on tidy conformity and cringe-inducing cliché is, let’s face it, strictly bush-league.