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Slanging Match : Part I scan woody ad on its own.


Silk Cut Ultra Benson and Hedges Silk Cut

Basic cigarettes    


All definitions used on this page can be verified in Tony Thorne's Dictionary of Contemporary Slang. Check out the bibliography for publication details. Some additional 'assistance' came from Roger's Profanisaurus, a 'freebee' distributed with Viz magazine..

Woody the Woodpecker

This page provides an introduction to the notion that meanings are associated with the imagery of an

Double poster for Silk Cut Ultra

ad, especially if the ad has some incongruous elements. Some individuals might find some of the dictionary definions on this and the subsequent page distressing. However, one should note that it is essential to present such definitions if one is to 'unpack' some of the meaning of the visual elements in the ads discussed here.

Meanings are not simply evident in the overall, somewhat superficial, impression that might first be gleaned from looking at an ad. Meanings can be discerned in the layout of an ad, the contents of an ad, the associations normally taken into account with the different aspects of ads and so on. Many of the cultural and social meanings are far more complex that can be dealt with here, where the focus is on manipulative and semi-subliminal content. Viewers are recommended to look at some of the books devoted to the analysis of advertising listed in the Advertising Bibliography.

In this double poster for Silk Cut Ultra cigarettes we have one ad with an individual in bed with a dripping tap and another featuring a woodpecker. But the woodpecker is seemingly a bit dumb. He is pecking on a concrete lamp standard. The unfortunate individual in his bed is ostensibly being troubled by a dripping tap. In reality he has a bigger 'problem' and this is discussed on the Tombstone Territory page.

woodie, woody n American 1a an American estate car or station wagon. Wooden exterior trim was a feature of the models manufactured in the 1930s, 40s and 50’s.

b any vehicle used by a surfer for transporting people and boards to the beach. Old or customized estate cars were originally favoured for this purpose.

‘I’ve got a 34 wagon, and we call it a woodie/ You know, it’s not very cherry, it’s an oldie but a goodie! Well it ain’t  got a back seat or a rear window/But  it still gets me where I want to go.’

(‘Surf City’ written by Jan Berry and Brian Wilson, recorded by Jan and Dean, 1963).

2 an erection. The same notion is conveyed by the British expression get wood.

‘Hey go easy, you’re giving me a woodie.’

(The Mask, US film, 1994).

No doubt the creative individuals who produced this ad would like viewers to pick up on positive notions concerning how effective the woodpecker's pecker is. One could equally consider the opposite but for the moment let's go with the positive. A pecker is a colloquial euphemism term for a penis. If one considers other colloquial meanings associated with the key elements in this ad then we also have a visual representation of a woody or an erection.

The ad is thus not just a rather surrealistic environment in which to display a pack of cigarettes. It is a setting for triggering sexually loaded thoughts that will hopefully become associated in due course with Ultra cigarettes.

Ultra Light adverts are not the only ads that have attempted to make use of visual representations of colloquial terms as a means of associating sex with a particular brand. As this is an industry wide effort, one can either consider collusion plays a part in the advertising of cigarettes or visualise a whole host of industrial spies and copycats pinching their rivals best efforts. See the Marlboro's effort at going Dutch and the Benson and Hedges ads referrred to below in addition to the second part of this page for more visual 'colloquialisms'.

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Benson and Hedges Utility Box

Click for a larger, floating, image. Benson & Hedges tools ad with phallic anvil. How Basic can one get? Well, certainly somewhat more Basic than this (see the Basic ads below). Here we have a recognizably surrealistic Benson and Hedges ad. The pack of valuable gold is apparently equivalent in weight to an anvil, a heavy hammer and pliers. Presumably this is because of all the potential in the pack for capturing lost souls but what is more interesting is what the elements of this ad allude to.

All of the implements shown in this ad are tools. Other tools and a mechanic appear in various other surrealistic Benson and Hedges ads. Are they there simply to provide counterpoints to the gold Benson and Hedges pack? No, probably not.

Consider that each ad has to provide some meaning to viewers, a meaning that will resonate with their experiences and their language. If these tools were intended to do trigger meaning then the meaning extracted is likely to be quite different for the city stockbroker and the blue collar worker in a factory. Tools for well educated individuals mean primarily that. But for the majority of heavy B&H smokers the word tools rhymes with Crown Jewels. Both are colloquial terms for anatomical equipment that is usually not on public display. In this ad, one can note that the anvil has not been shown in its entirety. This means that the protruding horn of the anvil was probably intended to be perceived as a phallic shape. Note also that it is a horn, very much like a rhinoceros horn. It is not simply an aspect of the anvil as a whole. And again 'horn' is a colloquial term for penis. The colour of this aspect of the anvil is also different from the rest of the anvil and there must be a reason for this, other than

tool n 1 the penis. The notion of the male member as an implement is very ancient. The word too itself appeared in Middle English and by the 16th century had been recorded as a sexual metaphor. It was at first an acceptable colloquialism, but since the beginning of the 19th century has been considered vulgar.

Play it safe

Play it cool

Wear a Jiffi

On your tool’

(Promotion slogan for Jiffi condoms, 1988).

He had a thing about his penis. When he was away from me, he was always referring to it as "my noble tool".’(Anna Kashfi referring to ex-husband Marlon Brando, Sunday Mirror, 3 September 1989).

2 a fool. Like many other words designating the male member, tool has the secondary meaning of a stupid (male) person.

3 a weapon. This usage is now rare, but has given rise to the standard underworld and police jargon expression tooled-up (armed with firearms) in British English.

the need to create an artistic impression. Given the many sexual messages associated with Benson and Hedges ads this meaning must be 'horns/tools penetrate'. Anvils, of course, do not. Numerous Silk Cut ads offer the same message with considerably more aggressive overtones.

As a reality check, consider how likely such a sexualised iinterpretation of this ad would have been if an entire anvil with a uniform colouration had been shown. Such an intepretation would have been much less likely.

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There are no Silk Sheets on this bed

The Benson and Hedges ad above made good use of colloquial meanings to get extra mileage out of their ad. Silk Cut came from the same stable. On at least one occasion they managed to produce an ad that had all the hallmarks of the Click for a larger, floating, image. Silk Cut ad with purple bed of nails. creative team that produced the Benson and Hedges ads.

The ad shown alongside presents the standard aggressive message associated with a considerable number of Silk Cut ads. This time, perhaps, one might say the underlying message is masochistic or passive aggression. But, additionally, it also manages to present a message concerned with sex.

Close-ups of this ad show that the nails on this bed of nails do not have sharp points. The points are not even blunt. The heads of the nails are in fact the same as the head of a screwdriver. This may be one means of conveying the message 'Go screw yourself' or perhaps with screwing the activity. Only the Silk Cut team know.

screw vb I to have sex (with). This use of the word was recorded in Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue in 1785. It may be a direct metaphor or may be influenced by the archaic use of screw to mean a key (turning in a lock). Since the late 1960s the verb can refer to the sexual act from the woman’s point of view as well as the man’s. The word owed much of its popularity to the fact that it is a synonym for fuck which is nevertheless acceptable in the media and what used to be referred to as ‘mixed company’.

2a to take advantage of, defraud, cheat or treat unfairly.

b to ruin or spoil. An extension of the previous sense paralleled by fuck, bugger etc.

3 British to stare (at). In working class London speech, especially among skin-heads of the late 1960s, the question ‘Who’re you screwin’?’ was often the prelude to violence. It has been suggested that this use of the word is in origin a shortening of scrutinize, but this seems hard to credit. Screwing up one’s eyes or metaphorically boring a hole into someone are other possibilities.

For other interesting insights into Silk Cut ads and support for the author's thesis re aggression in Silk Cut ads click here.


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How Basic Can You Get?

Basic ad. Basic cigarette ads have one basic message and that is pretty basic because The Best Things In Life are Basic and one wants to Keep it Basic. Perhaps this series of ads ought to have been placed on the Words page rather than under slang. There are interesting allusions relating to basic human activities cast by the ad captions. But there isn't much surprise in them. And neither is there in the advertising. However the author has only superficially appraised these ads so it is possible that something has been missed.

The ads are pretty neat, pretty basic and as homespun as one could wish. However, whenever possible they do their best to keep up the tradition of cigarette ads through the ages. Keep cigarettes sexy. If they can insert an image that has connotations that are a little bit more exciting than those normally associated with cups of coffee then they do so. But not too exciting. After all whoever smokes Basic doesn't like too much change, nor too much challenge, even if they read Playboy, the source of a number of these ads. The nearest you will get to the sexy type of messages found in Silk Cut, Marlboro, Benson and Hedges (UK)Basic cigarette ad with caption The best things in life are Basic and other brands is in the association between the caption and thecontents of the ads. Note, that I am not referring simply to a single ad. This series of five ads all have something in common.

Sometimes a little more oomph is given to ads by introducing elements that could be considered indicative of other activities. And, if cigarettes have to be perceived as sexy, then note first the connotations associated with 'tools' and the correspondence between the caption 'The Best Things In Life Are Basic, and the phallic shape of the prow of the canoe on the left.

If this had been a Marlboro ad one would expect to find SX another Basic cigarette adembedded inthe grass alongside Basic. Not here. In Basic ads it is rare to find the type of element one can note in the ad on the right. There you will find something more akin to the usual semi-subliminal elements in cigarette ads (see also the Basic ad in Ads of the Month). The smoke vaguely resembles the sideways profile of a woman. It is not as clear as one would expect but if this is intended to be a representation of a woman, is the woman who brings the smoker his cuppa insmoke bed his mother or his lover? Only an appraisal of other ads could help one determine that.

In general any subsidiary, covert, message in a Basic ad is elusive and at least one stage removed from the obvious meanings. The ad illustrated below, for example, is about painting and decorating. Or is it?

Note that the paint is red. In the top centreBasic ad with caption Keep it Basicthere is a darker patch of colour, just above the cigarette that is not in the pack. The cigarette in fact seems to be penetrating the darker patch. Should we take this to indicate sexual intercourse, during the menstrual period? This is only a tentative suggestion but, given the preponderance of cigarette advertising that draws together sexuality and cigarette smoking, then the only factor likely to differentiate advertising for Basic smokers from that of other brands will be what is incorporated in advertising and promotional activities. These need to be tailored to the psychographic characteristics of Basic smokers. If they are as Basic as their preference for such a brand name indicates, then they are either pretty much mother's boys or else they are pretty basic in other ways, perhaps even combining the two sets of characteristics.

The interpretation of these ads has been stretched further than the interpretations of many of the other ads on this web site. While this may be farfetched to the minds of some viewers it is recommendedcover of the book Decoding Advertisements that they read a few books such as by Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and meaning in advertising by Judith Williamson. Reading this book, and many of the others in the communication/psychology sections of the bibliography, will soon indicate that the meanings extracted by a viewer, consciously and unconsciously, is a 'collaborative effort' based on cues or symbols in the ad and the meanings associated with them in a variety of contexts. Conversely, the inclusion of particular objects and their layout is determined by the meanings the ad agency wishes to convey to viewers. This meaning may be clear or it may be covert, the ad agencies may get their arrangement of visual and textual elements correct or they may not. But the outcome is that the meaning in all such instances is not simply in the ad, nor is it in the mind of the viewer. In part this will be true. But the meaning also has a larger 'stage'. Meanings are, if effect, 'agents' within society i.e. the meaning is only important in so far as it will play a part in communication between senders and recipients. All communication requires at least two individuals, a recipient and a sender and in this instance it is ad agencies sending messages to viewers, with the component parts of that message determined by what the ad agency know or expect the viewer to respond to.

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Last Revised: 3rd January, 2003


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