Swimsuit issue the Superbowl of magazine publishing

Can spring be far away when the annual swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated has hit the newsstands once again? Nope. Actually, my 13-year-old son's subscription issue arrived just prior to the above event, and I've managed to pry it out of...

Can spring be far away when the annual swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated has hit the newsstands once again? Nope. Actually, my 13-year-old son’s subscription issue arrived just prior to the above event, and I’ve managed to pry it out of his quivering fingers long enough to take a squint at it for the ads, the ads, yes!

This thing would seem to have become the Superbowl of magazine publishing, in that many heavyweight advertisers have created customized spreads and foldouts expressly for the celebrated and wildly hyped swimsuit issue.

So a flip through the ad pages should give us a snapshot of the latest, best and brightest in American print advertising. (At least, the advertising directed at the kind of Americans the swimsuit issue is targeted at.) All you 13-year-old boys stand up and wave.

In fact, there’s some nice work here, if nice and cooler-than-thou are the same thing. Inside the front cover there’s a spread with one doozy of a red-sails-in-a-Caribbean sunset. The headline is on a tastefully wrought little ticket kind of thing, which says When you get to heaven, don’t say it looks just like Antigua. They’re so sick of hearing that. It’s for Royal Caribbean.

There’s a three-page fold-out that is simply a great shot of a fabulous-looking girl on a beach, wearing a simple white half tank top and cut-off blue jeans. The only other elements are a Levi’s red tab affixed to the margin of the page, and a nice piece of type on a blue field on the fold-out part that reads Hey, what about a jeans issue?

A few pages later, there’s a luminous, green, dewy bottle of beer, only the Heineken label and neck band have slipped off and are lying wantonly at the base of the bottle. The headline says Ooh la la.

Bringing down the tone several octaves is the usual weird, tacky Camel ad with an illo of what we used to call a broad in fishnet stockings and elbow-length black gloves, puffing on a Camel through an 18-inch cigarette holder. She has a hello sailor leer on her lips, and is holding a TV converter. Oh to have been a fly on the wall when the focus groups built this one!

Smirnoff used to do lovely ads here and in the U.K. about a hundred years ago, which is about how long they’ve been wandering in the wilderness. Now we get print executions with little silhouetted figures saying droll things to each other beside a monolithic bottle ‘n’ glass shot. One scruffy (read barely of Drinking Age) silhouette says Think I’d have a shot with any of those swimsuit models? The other replies Only if you had the last bottle of Smirnoff on earth. Gee, great strat! Join the Losers! Drink Smirnoff!

Toyota doesn’t think much of its would-be customers either. Their advice to this unloveable lot is Unlike the models in this magazine, these can be yours for a price. (A pretty girl wouldn’t touch you (a) with a ten-foot pole, or (b) for less than a hundred bucks, you creep!)

Trojan takes a chest shot of a melon-breasted babe and stuffs a condom pack into her bra and asks Why wear anything else? Well, they’re direct, anyway.

Jim Beam shows us four guys (without girlfriends) boozing in a bar with a table dancer foreground. In fact, all the customers in the bar are guys. The headline says Your lives would make a great sitcom. Of course, it would have to run on cable. Perhaps on the duh channel.

Volkswagen shares a little we-know-why-you’re-here chuckle with the reader. An empty, white, double-page spread with a blurry bug zooming east off the right-hand page, with a little gray headline on the other page that says It couldn’t wait to get to the next page either. Like the car, the new VW stuff is a small miracle. Totally new, yet totally evocative of past greatness.

Surely the most sophisticated ad in the book is on the back cover. Chivas Regal 12 shows us a short-skirted lady with long, amazing bare legs and sexy little sandals, swinging her lovely body out of the driver’s seat of a chic automobile. The headline says Beautiful women don’t buy Scotch. Beautiful women don’t buy anything. Then the Chivas 12 logo. Then the line When you know. Probably nonsense. But it sounds so very wise.

I suppose we should no longer be surprised by ads that provide not one iota of factual information to rationalize a purchase decision. For all these image-drunk advertisers, the strat is identical: This is a cool product. The executions vary from the slick grace of Chivas, Levis and VW to the shoot-yourself-in-the-foot variety. The coolest stuff of all just seems to say We’re not only cool, we’re hangin’ in the way cool Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, so we’re way cool. And when you’re 13, what else do you need? Hey, did I mention the issue comes with a pair of 3-D glasses?

Barry Base creates advertising campaigns for a living. He writes this column to blow off steam, and as a thinly disguised lure to attract clients who may imagine working with him could be a productive and amusing experience. Barry can be reached at (416) 924-5533, or faxed at (416) 960-5255, at the Toronto office of Barry Base & Partners.

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