Sex and nudity have been used in advertising to sell products since the medium’s beginning. But while the female nude was largely common, the male nude didn’t appear until 1967. According to the authors of the book, Born in 1842: A History of Advertising, the boldness wasn’t in the nudity itself, but in the absence of the product.
Here are two of Publicis’ campaigns in which the product is conspicuous by its absence. The first advertises Rosy lingerie, a brand established by the hosier Leon Josephson in 1936. Josephson turned to Publicis for his advertising in 1947. Inspired by a phrase from the English poet John Ruskin, “The path of a good woman is indeed strewn with flowers (…) Her feet have touched the meadows, and left the daisies rosy,” Publicis invented a symbol comprising a woman and a rose. This was captured in Jeanloup Sieff’s 1962 photograph, which portrayed not the product, but the reasons to buy it: luxury, elegance and seduction. Publicis was using inspiration from Ernest Dichter’s “Strategy of Desire” which had been published in Paris in 1961. However, for men it was a totally different matter.
In 1967, Selimaille came to Publicis for the launch of the men’s underwear. At the time, it had registered the name of a type of white underpants with a “black belt” intended to conjure up the idea of martial arts. Just as the advertisement showing the underpants was about to be aired, there was a ruling that prevented the product from being shown, as one of the firm’s competitors had already registered underwear with a waistband in a contrasting color. What was Selimaille to do? The advertising had intended to show the first designer underwear for men. Now there was nothing for it but to choose between showing the Greek model Frank Protopapa, clothed or unclothed. Thus the photographer, Jean-François Bauret, took the first advertising picture of a naked man.