A Pointed Argument

Ad Nauseam Selling Out: A Pointed Argument The word of the day, boys and girls, is nipple. That's because our favorite body part is making a huge splash in print advertising these days. Flip ope

Nov 16, 2000 at 2:06 pm

Ad Nauseam

Selling Out: A Pointed Argument

The word of the day, boys and girls, is nipple.

That's because our favorite body part is making a huge splash in print advertising these days. Flip open a magazine. Study that full-page spread. Here, a nipple. There, a nipple. Everywhere, an exposed nipple. Those infinitely funny little things are suddenly popping up like wildflowers in a national park. Astute ad watchers know that the sudden surge of the nipple, thought by many to be one of a handful of body parts still forbidden in publicly accessible media, is a watershed for print advertising.

And let's be honest about what we're studying: the female nipple.

Men's nipples — still the most useless bodily accessory — have popped up steadily and unapologetically for the last 20 years, never once creating a controversy. But the female nipple: There's the rub!

Let's walk through the evolution of the commercial nipple. It wasn't that long ago in our country when swimsuits were more like winter coats. Slowly, we loosened up. The bare shoulder was exposed. Then, the naked back. In the last 15 years, the naked form was shown mysteriously, in silhouette or with carefully placed objects blocking the hot spots.

In the last five years, mystery went out the window. Bare-naked ladies graced seemingly every third page in a typical magazine. It didn't matter what was being sold. If a naked torso could make a car battery sexy, then so be it.

But never had the nipple been so much as hinted at ... until very recently. The unspoken rule: You can show the breast, just not nipple. Now they're shown, for all the world to see. Although, to be fair, nipples are usually shown singularly. As if one nipple is any less incriminating.

The thinking inside a magazine's brain trust must be that if they can get away with showing a nipple (even if it's barely obscured by a sheer cloth or body paint), then they certainly can get away with a tastefully-conceived and artfully-photographed nude shot inside the publication. Case in point: a recent Vanity Fair cover shot showed a near full-frontal Gretchen Moll. On the cover!

I applaud this nipple renaissance. It's upfront and honest. When advertisers go to great lengths to hide nipples, that's just provokes us more! We search, as if on a randy game of "Where's Waldo?"

We even bunch together at the newsstand.

"I think I see the areola. Right there. It's definitely a different color. The airbrush guy must've missed that part."

Perhaps there isn't more hoopla about this because the offending ads mostly are running in women's mags. Why advertisers would want to show women's nipples to other women is beyond me, unless it's part of that whole low self-image plan masterminded by advertisers. In addition to the perfect abs and buttocks, women must now aspire to have the perfect nipples?

That's not to say every women's magazine doesn't give a hoot. Exhibit A: the November issue of Allure. On pages 48-49, there is sprawling, naked albino woman hocking Opium perfume. One nipple is blatantly shown.

Exhibit B: the November issue of InStyle. On page 141, the exact same Opium ad is shown, albeit reduced to just one page. The aforementioned nipple is nowhere to be seen. The breast smoothly fades into the background.

Maybe Allure can get away with a stray nipple because its demographic clearly is women. No man would ever pick up a copy unless it's delivered for his wife, he is really bored in the checkout line or he's exhaustively researching an overdue column.

Perhaps InStyle has just enough male readers to garner caution. But again: Not showing the nipple creates more of a stir. A reader who is unaware of the Allure version might think that the Opium model was missing the right nipple. It's strange to see a breast, after all, with no nipple attached.

So what's better? To show the nipple and get a cocked eyebrow or two, or go to great pains to remove the nipple, and cause studious reader to actively search? Either way, we're paying attention to their advertising, so the mission was accomplished. Stay tuned, faithful ad watchers, because when it comes to naked advertising, nipples just might be the tip of the, um, iceberg.