Herbal Essence

October 9, 2004

Everybody knows the outrageous TV ads for Clairol’s Herbal Essence shampoo. Recently, the company has toned down the “orgasmic/organic” angle and simply show images of women very happy using Herbal Essence.

In September, Herbal Essence made its debut on Channel One News (both the high school feed and the middle school feed). The new ads don’t have the overt sexual sounds and images of the ads that made the product infamous, but the classroom ads still have the not-subtle “ejaculation” scene where flowers spray out of the Herbal Essence bottle.

Clairol told Advertising Age magazine that they may go back to the “Yes! Yes! Yes!” ads if they need to.

Below is a letter and an article that provides some background on this new Channel One advertiser.

May 1, 2003

Mr. Martin Nuechtern
President, Clairol Global Hair Care Division
Procter & Gamble Company
One Procter & Gamble Plaza
Cincinnati, Ohio 45202

Dear Mr. Nuechtern:

I am writing to let you know that the American Nurses Association (ANA) is concerned about the Clairol Herbal Essence television advertisement featuring a nurse who ignores a patient in a hospital room while she is washing her hair and having an orgasm nearby. ANA has received numerous complaints from our nurse members regarding this tasteless advertisement, and I wanted to voice the association’s displeasure as well as let you know just how insulting the spot is to our members.

If you have kept up at all with the latest headlines, you must know that there is a national nursing shortage at hand – a shortage that is projected to get much worse as the nation’s aging baby boomers begin placing greater demands on our health care system. The growing shortage is exacerbated by the fact that young women and men are choosing other professions instead of nursing, in large part because of negative stereotyping associated with the image of nursing.

ANA’s main concern is that negative nurse portrayals such as this one seriously damage nurse-recruitment efforts and may well exacerbate a shortage that is fast reaching crisis proportions in our nation. The problem is that your commercial, while extremely flip and obviously not true to life, nevertheless reinforces sexist and inaccurate stereotypical images of nurses, and these ingrained images do play a role in shaping the values, impressions and ultimately career choices of young people – the very people who are so desperately needed in the profession.

The truth is that RNs are educated, caring, devoted and responsible professionals. Yet, despite these overwhelmingly positive characteristics, and despite being consistently ranked as the nation’s “most trusted and respected” profession year after year in Gallup polls, the image of nursing still suffers, and nurses (like teachers, firefighters and others in “caring” and “helping” professions) remain undervalued and underpaid as a result.

So, given these overwhelming facts, we hope you discontinue perpetuating negative images of nurses and refrain from using this offensive advertising message immediately. Otherwise, patients won’t have to worry about being ignored by a fictitious nurse who is too busy “washing her hair”; instead, they’ll be concerned about not having a real nurse there to care for them in the first place.


Barbara A. Blakeney, MS, APRN,BC, ANP
cc: A.G. Lafley, chief executive officer, Procter & Gamble


No more orgasms on air, says the ASA
By: Kim Penstone

Some good news from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), for a change. The television spot for Clairol Herbal Essence shampoo – yes, the mile-high orgasm – has been taken off air. Procter and Gamble decided to pull the ad following the lodging of 25 complaints with the ASA. In essence (no pun intended!), the complainants are of the opinion that the commercial is “too suggestive and offensive as it implies that the woman in the commercial is reaching a sexual climax”. They further believe that the commercial is harmful to young children, who are confronted with it on a daily basis.

The Commission of Gender Equality (CGE), which was asked to furnish an opinion on the matter, also openly condemned the ad, stating that: “this commercial perpetuates and negatively reinforces the notion of women as sexual objects in a casual context that is devoid of any meaningful human relationship or emotion”. The statement continues: “The direct analogy between the female orgasm and the words ‘organic experience’ is overt and the sexually suggestive sounds uttered imply that women are always willing; that women always love sex and that sex is always casual, fun and pleasurable with no consequences such as pregnancy and HIV or AIDS”. In defending the ad, Procter and Gamble argued that the campaign contains “no graphic content, nudity or violence” and that the tone is “upbeat and humorous”. But it has nonetheless agreed to pull the ads from our airwaves. Frankly, I’m not convinced by the CGE’s argument, nor am I offended by the sexual innuendo (if you can call it that!). I’m just appalled that someone, somewhere thought for even a millisecond that this ad would work, that it would raise brand awareness for Clairol, and perhaps even convince some women to try the product. (For months, I’ve thought that the ad was for Organics shampoo, anyway!) My grateful thanks to the ASA, and to Procter and Gamble, for agreeing to pull the ad from sight. It is offensive, if only because it’s so bad. Perhaps the ASA should look into banning bad advertising – that would make it more popular in the creative community!

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