It’s a weird time to be naked in print. For countless decades leading up to this one, appearing nude was a tried and true way to get immediate publicity. Even if prudes universally railed against your libertine thinking, you still enjoyed major PR pop. In fact, one certain family has been plying this particular “trade” for years now to keep themselves famous.
But it doesn’t always work. Sometimes, just being nude in print gets you panned and banned. Such is the story of Miranda Kerr.
The model and actress recently appeared nude on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar Australia. As is generally expected, her naughtiest bits were conveniently covered, and her sleek physique was enhanced and edited to appear nearly flawless.
Despite these concessions to both propriety and advertising expectations, the image was too much for grocery chain Coles, which subsequently pulled that issue from its shelves. PR reps for the grocery chain said the move came in response to complaints from customers.
These folks shop with their kids, and they weren’t happy about their children seeing, well, about the same amount of Woman Flesh you might see on your average trip to the beach Down Under. But let’s face it, at the beach there’s an understanding that under the carefully placed arms and hands there is cloth, not just skin, as the photo implies.
Harper’s Bazaar editor in chief Kellie Hush said she was disappointed in the decision. “I have had so much positive feedback from around the globe, it is a shame Coles does not also recognize the artistic integrity of this image,” Hush said, adding, “I respect that people have different opinions but I was really disappointed to hear Coles made the decision to pull the Miranda Kerr issue off shelves.”
It’s a stand you might expect the magazine’s top operational executive to take. Particularly when any responsibility for the image landed on her desk anyway. And, not that long ago, Hush might have found a legion of defenders. But times have changed.
These days, nudity in and of itself is either too pedestrian to be of any interest or too “offensive” to be tolerated. Unless you are promoting a cause. PETA still gets mileage out of its “I’d rather be naked…” campaign, and a steady stream of “plus sized” models have been celebrated for being “brave enough” to take it all off. Unfortunately for Kerr, her exhibition was nothing more than naked attention seeking. Sure, people looked, but, when they looked away, they were shaking their heads.
Kerr has become the latest victim in a cultural shift celebrating “imperfect” skin but seems to vilify those blessed with both top genetics … and Photoshop. They know nudity is a cheap way to get eyes on a topic, particularly the sort of teasing peek Kerr represents. To an increasing number of consumers, this sort of titillation is all too common, a clickbait staple the Internet pounds into the ground on a daily basis.
Increasingly, print is becoming a bit more Puritanical, even as the ‘net becomes increasingly libertine. Readership is shifting, and with it, expectations. PR pros need to understand this trend and act accordingly.
Celebrity PR efforts also have niche sectors, and each of those has some variation of their own rules to follow. Sports celebrity PR is vastly different from PR for top rated actors, which in turn is different from PR for those celebrities found more and more often – ones from reality television or being famous because they know certain people, or such. The latter group pushes the envelope to extremes and only seems to see a backlash when they cross into the MOST extreme situations – usually in the process acting like they don’t have to follow any of the normal rules of society.
Those extremes will get any type of celebrity in trouble, but the trouble may start much sooner for others who make their celebrity on some level of talent. Sports stars can be a bit outrageous, but it usually needs to fall in the realm of “boys will be boys” type of behavior. They need to keep in mind that professional sports have a lot of boys and girls watching closely what they do. Cross too far over the line and they might find themselves unmarketable.
But even within some of the groups within celebrity PR, there can be differences on what is expected from the celebrity’s behavior. Rappers have more leeway than country music stars, it’s just the nature of the beast.
As for Miranda Kerr, signed as a Victoria’s Secret angel in 2008, should easily get away with skimpy attire, but that still means Some fabric being involved. If the picture was not on the cover, but instead as part of an article inside the magazine with a more “decent” photo on the cover, it probably would have been a better choice from Harper’s Bazaar Australia. Because calling it art and putting it on a supermarket display stand don’t necessarily match.
From another point of view, maybe Harper’s Bazaar was testing the market, sometimes companies will push the boundaries to see if they are still in the same place. If no one in Australia supermarkets got upset, it’s possible the global output from the parent company might have tested the water further in international markets. If it works, you’re the hero – if not, well, they you have to do a bit of clean-up. Either way, Miranda Kerr should weather this storm easily.
She was doing her job, and no one saw any more of her than what they would in a fair share of the body of her work. She’s a model who has made her fame to a great extent helping to sell sexy and skimpy lingerie. This type of publicity, even though negative during the first wave, can turn into a good thing as long as it is handled well in the aftermath.