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The Pirelli Games


Ads for Pirelli tyres plus one spoof

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Pirelli Click for a larger, floating, image. Pirelli ad with Carl Lewis in red, high heel, shoes.Pinups

Carl Lewis, Pirelli's rearguard.

Click for a larger, floating, image. Tony Slattery in spoof Pirelli ad.Tony Slattery, with a less pointed outlook at life. 

When Pirelli first produced their pinup calendars they were determined to produce a product quite different from the standard pinups plastering walls of car repair workshops and locker rooms.   It looks as though, with the ad above, they are determined once again to make a mark on public consciousness. Why you might ask? What is so world shattering?

Well! Although it is not as clear in this reproduction as in the original, it is still possible to note a faint 'arrowhead' pointing to the left in the top right hand corner of the ad.  TheThe cover of Sex in Advertising cloud is also apparent in the reproduction of the ad on page 69 of the Batsford Book Best Ads: Sex in Advertising by Dave Saunders, published in 1996. It is pointing directly at Carl Lewis' ass.

The dark, pointed, cloud is, of course, overlooked by viewers who do not expect such features in ads.  In addition, their conscious attention is readily distracted by the high heel shoes and other features of the ad.    So what meaning might be attributed to the arrow pointing at Carl Lewis' ass or what might it symbolize?

The ad has the kind of Freudian touch that Wilson Key would have approved of. Freudian notions were the basis of Key's theoretical approach to semi-subliminal and subliminal advertising as reported in Sexual Seduction, Ad-ventures in Erotic Art and other books. If the 'arrowhead' is there for a purpose it seems reasonable to assume that the shape is calculated to trigger emotional responses in susceptible individuals.  For example, two of my male students reported feeling disturbed by this ad and yet could not identify the reason why.

Their reactions could have been for one of two related reasons.  The ad caption pointed out that there is 'nothing without control' (italics added).   This caption when presented in conjunction with the area of anatomy pinpointed by the tip of the arrow,  has the potential to raise worrying issues for some individuals. This may be in connection with the control of bodily waste (something rather than nothing) and/or issues associated with emotional control. 

Alternatively, the ad may have raised sexual issues. This could perhaps explain why, in a parody of the original ad, Tony Slattery appears rather grim, almost agonized. Tony's 'ad', incidentally, featured in a set of spoof ads that appeared in Marie Claire magazine in 1996.  If Tony chose the topic himself then something about the ad must have appealed to him and the key element might not even have been consciously appraised.

extract of Tony Slattery's concerned faceThe 'arrowhead' could be interpreted as an indicator or means of anal penetration.  If interpreted as such it could raise issues/fears regarding ones sexual orientation.   It might also have been  a 'turn-on' for individuals with a homosexual orientation.   Yet other individuals with sadomasochistic leanings may have preconsiously associated this with the spiked high heel shoes and been led to reflect on various sexual fantasies. 

Any of these - and other -  interpretations could be justified on the basis of psychological theories. To determine the particular interpretation that registered with any specific individual would require extensive knowledge of their early life history.  What is clear is that the Pirelli ad was intentionally doctored in a manner that was calculated to trigger a variety of ideas.  These were not simply to promote the idea of traction by Pirelli tyres.  This conclusion is not based solely on the interpretation of one particular advert. Readers will find the necessary 'evidence' accumulating by viewing the next two Pirelli adverts, each of which has also been 'doctored' to produce ads with a number of layers of meaning.

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Hot Hands-Cold Heart

This is another in this series of Pirelli ads.  This time it features a female runner doing her best to 'get away' from the lava flow behind her.   It is noticeable that the ad has an additional 'message'. The lava flow is shaped like a hand.  It is not simply lava that this woman has to fear, it is grasping hands. The latter are a much more likely hazard in today's world, including the locker rooms of companies selling Pirelli tyres, than erupting volcanoes.

A couple of likely voyeurs can also be noted just above the lava flow 'hand'. And, if your imagination is powerful enough, you might also be able to perceive another 'face' embedded in the cloud of smoke billowing from the volcano.


Click for a larger, floating, image. Pirelli woman and wave.Here is yet another in the same series.  Look at the larger version of this ad to see the 'faces' in the 'tube' of water on the left. Taken in the context of the other ads in the series, the faces are presumably 'ogling' the runner.   The ad carries essentially the same message as above.  But note that the interpretation and meaning of the ads can differ depending upon whether the viewer is male or female and how they view the relationships between men and women.  The stereotypical male interpretation would most likely be related to 'chasing/grasping' the female. The response of a female would most likely be that of  'fear/avoidance' of the individual grasping/staring at her.  

In the world of male magazines, women are often treated as objects to be observed and Click for a larger, floating, image. Pirelli cat's eyes ad.toyed with and one could make essentially the same point about early Pirelli calendars. Women were simply objects to be presented for the gratification of men.  One ad in the present series actually depicts the running woman as if she were a mouse being pursued by a cat.  Another, whose message is less clear, has a woman running in front of what seems to be an explosive burst of water.   However, one can perceive in the full size ad a leering face in the bottom Click for a larger, floating, image. JPirelli's running woman and water ad. right and another somewhat higher up on the left hand side. There may also be embedded lettering in the spray pattern above her head.

Such an elaborate set of images and their socially pertinent interpretations could not have occurred by chance.   Their essential audience would seem to be male chauvinists.  One may wish to bear in mind here the predominantly male staff of the companies selling and using Pirelli tyres and the chequered history of Pirelli calendars.  A second  audience could be anxiety prone individuals, especially, women.   

Intuitively, instilling anxiety might not seem like a good sales technique.  But, providing the level of anxiety is manageable, and there is no conscious appreciation of the cause, then a solution to the anxiety that the ad may have caused is readily at hand.  The solution to such unconscious anxiety when aroused in a context concerning driving , tyres and road holding means that Pirelli tyres can also offer relief. The fact that it was their ads that engendered that anxiety in the first place would not be noticed. For other anxiety related ads see the Marlboro page.

As with all the ads mentioned on this site it would be interesting to look at the sales figures for Pirelli tyres before, during and after the particular marketing campaign that these adverts were part of. Another Pirelli ad can be found on the Ads of the Month page.

For information about a series of interesting books and videotapes focusing on various aspects of advertising and its implications for the understanding of gender, addiction, corporate power, etc click here. These include hardback and paperback editions of the book Deadly Persuasion: Why women and girls must fight the addictive power of advertising by Jean Kilbourne, illustrated on the right.

Despite the title, this book is recommended as suitable reading for males of all ages, especially those regularly exposed to the sexist images and messages common in drink, car and cigarette advertising.


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To the best of the author's knowledge none of the illustrations, in the format used on this site, are subject to copyright. If copyright has been inadvertently breached please contact the author in order to rectify the matter. All brands and logos referred to or illustrated on this site are the property of the relevant companies and copyright holders. However, commentary and other information produced by the author can be freely copied and distributed. Similarly, illustrations of ads, so long as they are accompanied by commentary or are presented in the form of parody, can also be copied and distributed but please acknowledge as the source. Translation of tobacco company ads and relevant commentary into languages other than English will be particularly welcomed.

Last Revised: 3rd January, 2003


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