They "give good head"

A cheeky shampoo ad gets New Yorkers in a lather over decency.

Published May 17, 2001 7:00PM (EDT)

Is Mayor Rudy Giuliani's decency commission cracking down on cheesy double-entendres in advertising copy?

The "city that can kick your city's ass" rescinded its approval of an ad campaign for B in10se -- a new line of hair care products from Minneapolis' Lamaur Corp. -- that was set to appear on New York buses and subway cars in two weeks, after reporters started calling to confirm the story on Tuesday.

According to Robert Imig, a publicist for B in10se (as in "be intense," but more in10sely annoying), Transportation Displays Inc., the private company that screens ad campaigns for the Metropolitan Transit Authority, originally approved the ads -- going so far as to provide mockups of the "king size" bus posters, a breakdown of costs, a 25 percent bonus incentive based on an August start date ("total four week cost, $497,602; total four week value, $873,640"), warm compliments on the quality of the products and a request that the company's advertising agency consider making the tag line smaller "due to the nature of the wording."

The wording: "We Give Good Head."

"What we think happened is that they went running scared of the city and Giuliani," Imig says of TDI's change of heart.

Like a big rain that has finally come, Giuliani's decency commission has been washing New York of as much "sexually oriented" material visible to the public as it can find. Imig speculates that TDI withdrew its approval after reporters asked how the racy slogan would square with the smut-fighting mayor.

Steve Levitt, an account executive for TDI, denies that the ad campaign was ever approved, however, calling the whole thing a rumor. Asked why an ad might get turned down, Levitt said, "Well, you read the copy, and ... I can hear that you're typing, so I'm not going to say anything."

The ads are part of a $10 million advertising campaign designed to reach those trend-setting 20-year-olds -- whom Lamaur CEO Lawrence Pesin has christened "CEFFs" (cutting edge fashion fanatics) -- "smart and irreverent" enough to grasp and appreciate the company's novel pairing of sex with an unrelated product and "tongue-in-cheek approach to hair."

TDI has a history of censoring political ads and public service announcements -- including a PSA for the Berkeley, Calif., Peace Action Education Fund and a San Francisco Bay Guardian ad with political content -- but the company is not normally known for turning away big-spending customers. (Earlier this month, however, ads for the retailer French Connection U.K. were pulled from billboards in New York and San Francisco. The company, which goes by its acronym, FCUK, was launching its first San Francisco store with the slogan "San Francisco's First Fcuk.")

Apart from TDI, only one magazine, Marie Claire, has rejected the ads, which will appear in the May issues of Allure, FHM, Jane, Mademoiselle, Maxim, Nylon, Out, Raygun, Rolling Stone, Spin and Time Out New York. And B in10se says that even "retailers who are often hesitant to get behind controversy have been very supportive."

In fact, the hair care line will be distributed nationally in food and drugstore chains -- including the normally smut-free Wal-Mart. "Perhaps," muses an uncredited flack in the company's innuendo-heavy press release, "this is because the vernacular slang of oral sex has penetrated popular culture. Since former President Clinton first broke the taboo of discussing oral sex in the media, the subject has literally been on everyone's lips."

B in10se is now attempting to place the ads on New York taxicabs and billboards. "We are even looking into placing a billboard in Harlem across the street from President Clinton's new office," Imig says, "so he can look at the slogan every day -- after all, he is the person who brought oral sex mainstream."

And he was worried about his legacy.

By Carina Chocano

Carina Chocano writes about TV for Salon. She is the author of "Do You Love Me or Am I Just Paranoid?" (Villard).

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