Women Will Model Bras in TV Ads as Decades-Old Taboo Falls

Times Staff Writer

Brassieres, which haven’t made much news since some were symbolically burned two decades ago, are historical footnotes again. Television advertisements for some bras will soon use models instead of manikins.

On May 4, NBC is scheduled to air an ad for the Playtex-made Cross Your Heart bra, which shows a woman wearing the product. This brings to an end the decades-old ban by the networks on commercials that show models in their underwear.

“I don’t see why it should be taboo to show a woman in a bra,” said Hercules P. Sotos, vice-chairman of International Playtex, the Stamford, Conn.-based manufacturer. “It’s much more effective in showing the product’s attributes than a manikin.”


Playtex is not alone. In a soon-to-be-aired television ad campaign for men’s underwear, Fruit of the Loom has hired a male model to wear briefs. Both the $4-million Playtex campaign and the Fruit of the Loom campaign were devised by Grey Advertising.

“We’ve had a whole generation of kids who grew up thinking that when a woman takes off her blouse, she turns into a manikin,” said Edward H. Meyer, chairman of New York-based Grey Advertising Inc.

“All we’re trying to do is get advertising brought up to the same standards as the media that surrounds it,” said Meyer.

For years, magazines and newspapers have printed ads with models wearing undergarments. But television ad standards have generally been far more strict--until now.

While network executives say a change in the public’s taste led to the policy reversal, ad industry consultants say that the growing acceptance of condom advertising by some stations may have nudged the door open. And they also say that a continued drop in network ad revenues may eventually result in the networks easing restrictions on many other types of ads.

“If I had ads for a product that had previously been rejected by the networks, I’d say now’s the time to come back with them, “ said Al Hempel, a New York-based ad industry consultant. “With spending down on network advertising, there seems to be a definite trend towards loosening standards.”


Network executives, however, insist that their recent decisions to accept these undergarment ads are based on a change in public attitudes. “Our judgment is that the audience will not find this sort of advertising offensive,” said Rick Gitter, vice president of broadcast standards at NBC. “But we wouldn’t use a commercial with an overexposure of cleavage, or one with a woman who is too well-endowed.”

“We’re not loosening our standards,” said Jeff Tolvin, ABC’s director of business information. “It’s not as if we’ll accept every commercial that’s submitted.”

In Europe, commercials featuring women and men in undergarments have been shown on television for years. Some U.S. cable TV networks have also accepted the ads.

The new Playtex commercials--which feature women changing from business attire to evening wardrobes--show the women in their bras for only a few moments. “Playtex is a conservative company with a broad base of consumers,” said Sotos. “I don’t believe we’ll have any flak from this.”

The Fruit of the Loom ad, however, is a bit more provocative. The 30-second ad features an actor attired in a bathrobe. At the end of the ad, the actor opens his robe to display his briefs. “I guess there is some shock value to it,” said Carlos Martin, vice president of marketing at Bowling Green, Ky.-based Fruit of the Loom.

“We’re doing one better,” said Phil Sklar, senior vice president of Maidenform Inc.’s ad agency, New York-based Levine, Huntley, Schmidt & Beaver. “We’re going bra-less.”

Well, sort of. Instead of showing women wearing bras, Maidenform next fall will take the opposite tack and leave the product out of its ads. Maidenform has hired male celebrities to talk about the kind of lingerie they like on women.