In Defense of Sexy Ads

What Women Really Think
April 27 2012 4:12 PM

Bring On the Sexy Plumbers

Liquid Plumr ad screencapture from YouTube
Screencapture from YouTube

Herewith, a full-throated (oh, dear) defense of unnecessary sex in television ads. Specifically, unnecessary sex offered in the context of an extremely funny and good-hearted narrative. Can a salacious TV ad be good-hearted, you ask? Yes, as this ad for Liquid-Plumr Double Impact proves. The ad came out in February, but aside from some kudos from Adweek and some outrage from the conservative One Million Moms (natch), it hasn’t received much attention. I caught it on TV last night and since then I have watched it over and over, each time noticing something new: the little shudder comedian Jessica Makinson gives in the middle of the supermarket when she wakes up from her ménage a trois fantasy; the sign behind the hot produce guy indicating that squash is 69 cents.

The ad works, in part, because it flips the expected paradigm of sexy ads by offering a nerdy female protagonist rewarded with unrealistically hot men (for no reason other than that she chose the right product). It works, too, because it’s utterly ridiculous. This is not an instance of an ad throwing a woman in bikini across the screen as a kind of eyeball lure. Sex happens to be the medium, but Makinson’s playful delivery is what makes it work. Anti-porn activist Sunsara Taylor has argued that the Liquid-Plumr spot promotes a troubling porn mindset, a notion “that all women at all times exist to be (and long to be) sexually available to all men.” But I’d argue just the opposite: It’s good to see a woman enact her own impossible sex fantasy—and in an ad for drain cleaner, no less.

Libby Copeland is a writer in New York and a regular Slate contributor. She was previously a Washington Post reporter and editor for 11 years. She can be reached at libbycopeland@gmail.com.