Driven by a good-taste litmus test

Caroline Frost
December 17, 2009

I DON'T think I'm a prude, and my problem is not with the controversial Toyota Yaris ad itself.

Rather, it is that a) a group of bright young sparks sat around digging deep into their creativity and this was the best they could come up with and b) their efforts were rewarded with a $7000 cheque.

If only being effortlessly offensive were always so lucrative. Sigh.

For those who don't know what I'm on about, here goes. In an online Clever Film Comp organised by Toyota and Saatchi & Saatchi, the first prize went to an entry featuring an innuendo-riddled conversation between a young woman's father and her boyfriend, who has turned up to collect her for an evening out.

"I'm here to take Jennifer's virginity out tonight. I hope I haven't come too prematurely," is his starter.

"I'm coming," calls Jennifer. "I'm coming."

What's that? I can remember sniggering with my mates when teachers made accidental remarks like this at school. Our only excuse was that we were 12, and didn't get out much.

And so the ad goes on, delving into strange territory with the young man telling the father about the couple of airbags up front and traction control for when it gets slippery.

Need I go on? Oh, all right then.

The father is happy his daughter can take a "good pounding" and her date promises to have her on her back and "ready to blow".

Not surprisingly, there's been a strong reaction. Critics, mostly female - inevitably - flagged it as offensive and degrading while some see incestuous overtones in the father's attitude.

The ad was removed from the competition website, with Toyota expressing concern that it was causing distress.

But the cynical might point out that it's done its work, because everyone's talking about Toyota. So are we more or less likely to buy a Toyota now? And is there really any such thing as bad publicity?

Well, on a few occasions, the answer is yes. Monica Lewinsky, I'm sure, would no doubt have opted for a less controversial moniker, so to speak. And presumably Tiger Woods is not exactly revelling in his latest headlines either.

But bad publicity does open many a gate, as the Chaser team discovered after the Osama bin Laden-lookalike stunt during the APEC summit in 2007.

While the comedy team was condemned by police and security officials, the fallout ensured international publicity and broadcast deals in Israel and South Korea.

More to the point, the stunt was named Best Television Moment at the MTV Australia Awards last year.

Less successful was their crack at the Make-A-Wish Foundation this year. No one laughed and the show was suspended for two weeks.

What this shows is that the further you stray from the boundary of perceived good taste, the funnier you have to be to get away with it.

Walking this tightrope is a balancing act that the best comedians and satirists in the world are still trying to master. So how could we expect anything more from a bunch of undoubtedly enthusiastic Toyota fans who didn't reach further than their Benny Hill videos for inspiration?

Come on, guys, I promise I'm not a prude. I'm not actually even offended - I'm just wondering, is that really the best you can do?

Video: Pulled Toyota ad