Ad Nut
Mar 22, 2019

Ahhh, the fresh smell of..sweaty underpants?

This gardening brand's commercial really stinks.

Here's an ad for a German home and garden retailer called Hornbach, by Berlin agency Heimat. As a woodland creature, Ad Nut loves the earth. Ad Nut actually lives in a tree. And places like Hornbach sell birdseed—the crack cocaine of squirrel-kind. So Ad Nut is going to love this, right? It's about gardening, what could go wrong?

Please watch it, and join Ad Nut in gape-mouthed disbelief. 

What? Just? Happened?

Ad Nut has expended considerable brain power trying to answer that question—attempting to reconstruct the chain of logic that must have gone into the creation of this commercial. This is the best Ad Nut has come up with:

  1. Ok, team, we want to get people excited about spring yard-work projects.
  2. Cool. Should we focus on attractive gardens? Bright flowers? Bird baths? 
  3. No, not "edgy" enough, no one will pay any attention.
  4. ???????????
  5. Wow, I love that idea! So, we'll have lots of footage of sweaty men. All men, of course, because obviously women don't do yard work. Or sweat. And then the men will remove their sweaty clothes and hand them over to these scientist-types (who of course are both men...because, duh). One dude will even hand over his underwear!
  6. Sweet! And then we'll show the scientist guys using machines to package the sweaty shirts and underwear for sale. So people can buy it. You know—to enjoy the odor of perspiration-soaked undergarments.
  7. ???????????
  8. Oh yes, I agree! It totally needs to be a woman. In Asia. We'll show her buying the package from a vending machine, taking a deep sniff of that heady scent, and then making faces like she's having an orgasm!
  9. Brilliant! I love this team so much right now.

The mind boggles at what discussions could have possibly taken place during step 4 and step 7. But somehow, the team members made those leaps. And then, they actually went off and made this.

The part about sweat is bad enough. It's gross, obviously, but also grossly unfit for the purpose of the campaign. Yes, people sweat when they work outside. But they also sweat while doing many other activities. And when other people smell a sweaty person, do they immediately think of making springtime purchases of landscaping supplies? No, they think that someone needs a shower.  

But it's the ending—with the sexual overtones dialed up to 11—that really fries Ad Nut's synapses.

And Ad Nut is not alone. In fact, Ad Nut only became aware of this ad because of the following Tweet.

Ad Nut feels that Hui Chong has absolutely nailed it here with the comment about fetishization. The makers of this ad had a reprehensible, objectifying, imperialist archetype of Asian women's sexuality rolling around in their heads somewhere. And they not only went there, they leaned into it. Hard. And not one single person who was involved thought better of it at any point. It seemed funny to them. To show an Asian woman getting a sexual thrill from smelling men's dirty underwear.

And check this out: The brand tried to defend itself:

The GIF the brand embedded there shows another execution in the campaign. And yes, that one shows a white dude getting hot and bothered about sweat-stank. But the existence of that work doesn't excuse the work we're talking about. First, it is about Asian women, because you specifically chose to put an Asian woman in it. Second, it's not about the smell of "spring"—it's about the smell of male taint sweat, because that's what you showed. And third, you don't get to tell people how to interpret your ad. They gonna read it how they damn well please, and they gonna judge you for your choices. Don't like it? Maybe try to examine your biases next time. Ad Nut's also guessing your staff could do with an injection of gender and cultural diversity.

If, instead of sweat, the work had focused on the wholesome smell of soil, or even (for something a bit more edgy) the smell of fresh fertilizer, it would have made perfect sense. And Ad Nut could have bought the brand's assertion that it was promoting a discourse about urbanization and the decreasing quality of life in cities. And it wouldn't have been offensive to have a woman, in any nation, doing the smelling.

But again: Sweaty men. Dirty underpants. Woman smelling dirty men's underpants and making an o-face. So, no.

If there's any discourse to be had here, it's a cautionary tale about how creative efforts can go off the rails. It's a great example of what happens when the desire to be weird overwhelms common sense and there's no one around to help a group resist its worst impulses.

Ad Nut is a surprisingly literate woodland creature that for unknown reasons has an unhealthy obsession with advertising. Ad Nut gathers ads from all over Asia and the world for your viewing pleasure, because Ad Nut loves you. You can also check out Ad Nut's Advertising Hall of Fame, or read about Ad Nut's strange obsession with 'murderous beasts'.


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