Sex Sells… Tuna!

The use of sex appeal to sell products is a distinguishing feature of modern Western expressive individualist consumer culture. Sexy ads in North America are usually somewhat coy, unlike sexy ads in Europe, which are lascivious and sometimes perverted. And I have heard that advertising in Japan is positively obscene.

But part of what is so delightful about the Philippines is the way everything is over-the-top, often ridiculously so. Sora and I chuckle about some of the billboards, even while wishing that our eleven year old were not being subjected to them.

One of the stereotypically Filipino billboards is this one, located across from the nearest mall. It is an ad for tinned tuna.


A little research – which no Filipino would even need to do – reveals that 555 Tuna has as its spokesman for this ad campaign the Filipino action movie star Robin Padilla. Here, he poses in open shirt, mightily empowered by the 555 Tuna he has eaten. Actress Cristine Reyes, dressed in short shorts and a pink polka dot top, perches atop his flexed bicep, and prepares to feed him another spoonful of tuna. Is it sexy? Yes, but it’s also poking fun at its own use of sex. It doesn’t take itself seriously.

It turns out there is a TV version of the ad as well. A shirtless Mr. Padilla unloads some heavy goods from his (macho) pickup truck before using a pair of clippers to sculpt Cristine’a hedge into the shape of a heart. Then they both sit down to some yummy tuna:

The sexuality in advertising trickles down, too. At a carwash this morning I saw this sign:


Nothing could more clearly illustrate the lack of any logical connection: “Well, I was going to light up, but since the Filipina Bikini Team doesn’t want me to smoke…”

There are other advertising methods on billboards, and they are just as comically exaggerated here in the Philippines: there’s the “you need this particular brand of product in order to have a happy family” strategy, as well “your kids need this food/toy/whatever in order to be successful or healthy.” I’ll try to cover some of them in another post.


2 comments on “Sex Sells… Tuna!

  1. sge123 says:

    I can’t stand consumer advertising. Its one of the reasons I most like not having television in the house. When I think of all the space in my brain that’s been eaten up with memorized jingles and unhealthy commercial images from when I was a kid and teen, it makes me mad. I’d really like to save that space in Hayden’s brain for more constructive and healthy stuff 🙂

  2. […] me, being an American in the Philippines; surrounded by poverty, yet also by billboards and gigantic malls – to my eyes, these things stand out as the temples and proselytizing of a […]

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