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Where's the Line on Those Suggestive Ads?

By Andy Alexander

It’s not uncommon for newspapers to carry advertisements of attractive, scantily clad women and men promoting everything from bathing suits to surgical tummy tucks. And The Post’s classified ad “Personals” are full of titillating descriptions (Today: “Stunning total package. . .shapely and sexy”).

But a few callers this past week thought The Post had crossed the line with an A-section display ad carrying a headline that asked: “Want Stronger and Longer Lasting Erections?” The ad is for the Boston Medical Group. It features an alluring photo of a striking, well-endowed young woman who is reclining beneath the words “Sex for Life.” Below, it says: “Last 30-60 minutes.”

One caller objected to the ad’s placement in the main news section. He’s trying to encourage his children to read the newspaper, he said, but doesn’t want them exposed to something so “coarse” and “inappropriate.”

To me, the ads are acceptable. Suggestive male enhancement ads air every day on television and radio. And the photo in the Boston Medical Group ad is tame compared to what kids see nonstop on TV or the Internet. But the calls did stir my curiosity about how The Post handles ads that some might see as pushing the boundaries of good taste.

Kenneth R. Babby, The Post’s vice president for advertising, says “we give advertisers as much latitude as we can to run the ads that they wish.” Anything that’s “unlawful” -- a discriminatory hiring ad, for instance -- gets rejected. Beyond that, he said, The Post often faces “difficult judgments about what ads to reject on grounds of taste.”

“Certain ads that we publish may end up offending some readers,” he said, but “we review such ads on an ongoing basis to determine which to accept and which to reject."

The Post frequently runs ads for massage parlors and “spas.” The Washington-based Polaris Project, which seeks to combat human sex trafficking, has been flooding The Post with form e-mails asserting that many “are thinly veiled brothels in which women are subjected to force, coercion, and manipulation to provide commercial sex acts.”

The Post’s policy is to ask that the massage parlors or spas produce valid business licenses before accepting their ads. If the paper subsequently receives evidence that the business is, in fact, an illegal prostitution operation, the ads are discontinued.

By Andy Alexander  | June 5, 2009; 11:28 AM ET
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The primary defense offered by Andy - they're ubiquitous on TV and the internet - doesn't allow for the reality many readers have internet ad-blockers and no TV.

That's my case, so I've only seen such ads in my morning Post, where I personally don't them mind at all. The fact the products are legal ought to be sufficient to justify them.

The Post needs to sell ads, and I'm grateful to all its sponsors, even those whose animated online ads make an ad-blocker a mental health necessity. Should technology ever enable dead-tree editions to run those animated ads, I fear the newspaper biz will be DOA.

Posted by: jhbyer | June 5, 2009 1:09 PM | Report abuse

"Suggestive male enhancement ads air every day on television and radio."


That doesn't mean they are tasteful or acceptable. That's your standard? Some of the cr@p they show on TV is your standard?

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | June 6, 2009 12:05 AM | Report abuse

The Post also runs a few pages of news specifically for kids.

The reason the man is upset is because the advertiser communicates its message with high effectiveness. That's essentially what advertising is all about: communication.

I don't understand why he is teaching his children to read a printed newspaper though. How to navigate the web site would be a better use of a child's time.

Posted by: blasmaic | June 6, 2009 7:21 AM | Report abuse

The newspaper is full of NEWS that is "coarse and inappropriate."

That being said - I am an ADULT who finds men's sense of ENTITLEMENT disgusting.

Posted by: solsticebelle | June 7, 2009 10:43 AM | Report abuse

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