“Kiss without a trace”: Using adultery to sell… lipstick?
The American cosmetics manufacturer Benefit has taken a unique new approach to advertising one of its biggest bestsellers, Benetint in Korea. Emphasising the tint’s “Kissproof”-ness, a new CF for the product features a married woman going into a lift (or elevator, if you use US English) with a good-looking guy, putting on the tint and removing her wedding ring before pouncing on the guy for a quick make out session and then walking out to meet her husband on the next floor.
This ad is interesting in a number of ways. Firstly because it is so markedly different from Benefit’s marketing in North America and Europe. Most of the brand’s plays on their retro image as can be seen in the most recent ad for the same product released last year in which four different tints are personified by four different women all dressed in different classic pin-up styles. Benefit Korea’s marketing strategy is much less nostalgia-based, aside from the packaging, and you can see from their Facebook page, a lot of their imagery is more travel focussed.
But that is only a side issue, the main point of interest here is quite clearly the content rather than the style. Cheating is an unusual theme for advertising in any country but it’s particularly notable in a Korean context where, until very recently, adultery was a criminally prosecutable offence. In fact what makes it most interesting is not that it is about adultery but rather that it seems to condone adultery. As Branding In Asia puts it:
“The message is pretty simple: Slip off that wedding ring, kiss that boy in the elevator, then meet your husband waiting for you on the next floor.”
This indicates a very quick shift in attitudes about infidelity that has happened in the past few years.
In the belief that adultery was damaging to family units and to protect the rights of women who had little legal standing and usually no income of their own, a law was enacted criminalising the act in the fifties when South Korea first became a country. It may seem archaic from a western perspective but the law was very much in use until the start of this year. In the six years before it was repealed five and a half thousand people were brought to court over infidelity. Technically they could even face jail time of up to two years, although the defendant was often handed a suspended sentence.
Such as the high-profile case of actress Ok So-ri in 2008 who was given two years on probation for two extra-marital affairs. Ok tried to appeal the decision saying it violated her human rights but failed – as did three previous attempts to have the law repealed.
The law was finally repealed by the constitutional courts in February deciding it was unconstitutional and an infringement on individuals’ rights and private lives. On the appeal, the court argued the law “violates individuals’ freedom to choose a sexual partner and their right to privacy. Not only is the anti-adultery law gradually losing its place in the world, it no longer reflects our people’s way of thinking.”
This change in attitudes can be seen no more clearly than in this advert. A few years ago even the hint at the idea of a woman having the agency to initiate a sexual encounter with a stranger would have been scandalous. But this is not just a woman, it’s a married woman and it’s not just a hint, it’s a full-on kiss scene which takes up a third of the commercial’s one minute long run.
Clearly the ad is an example of a massive shift in attitudes surrounding women’s relationship with sexuality that has occurred in recent years in Korea. We’ve seen that lately on shows like Witch Hunt where even female idols have been hinting at the fact they may actually have a sex life.
But even so, condoning adultery is still a bit of an iffy move on Benefit’s part and I’m not entirely sure how this is supposed to entice female viewers. Perhaps this is supposed to make women feel empowered to make their own sexual decisions but I can’t help but feel it serves mostly just to reinforce the idea that women are liars.
Alternatively, it could be Benefit trying to show how in touch they are with the social issues in South Korea. Or maybe it’s just intended as a clever gimmick to show how long-lasting and non-smudging the tint is.
Intentions good or otherwise, the cynic in me sees this as nothing more than a half-hearted attempt at female ‘sexual empowerment’ in order to sell more lipstick.