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Advertising boldly going too far for comfort

REMEMBER the good old days, when there were certain topics that advertisers handled like glass?

Euphemism and distraction used to rule when it came to products for the ailments and physical issues that people regarded as private. Once upon a time, roiling stomachs weren't further tormented by commercials featuring grotesque, pink-clad dancers miming "nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach, diarrhea." Instead, PeptoBismol got its point across with an animated character's reference to over-eating, followed by a doctor-like actor prescribing its potion. Gory details were not required.

Alka-Seltzer has a long history of using cleverness to hawk its ware. In the 1960s and '70s it ran hugely popular campaigns, one of which even featured the voice of actor Gene Wilder as an unhappy stomach engaged in a therapy session with its owner. In one of its other commercials from that period, a middleaged fellow sat on the edge of his bed moaning, "I can't believe I ate the whole thing" while his disgusted wife made snide remarks. Somebody, somewhere, is still using that phrase every time he gorges.

The catchy but succinct tune that went "Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh, what a relief it is" was another Alka-Seltzer slogan that quickly became a catch-phrase, as were "Try it, you'll like it!" and the faux Italian "Mama mia, that's-a spicy meatball!"

Sadly, we now live in far more graphic and manipulative times. As if we're not sufficiently obsessed, in the intimacy of our own bathrooms, with baldness, warts, dandruff and foot pong, television advertisers are doing their best to make us worry about bizarre issues like toilet paper that refuses to let go.

No doubt you've seen the commercial where a young bear finds his rear end laughably festooned with bits of paper product just because his parents bought the wrong brand. Huh? This is a problem, for bears or anybody else? Meanwhile, a rival commercial features a ditzy middle-aged woman whose brave choice of a toilet paper that allegedly doesn't cling prompts her husband to zip out of the bathroom and cry "Get your shoes on, peanut, we're goin' dancin'!"

We're deluged, of course, with TV commercials about youngsters whose excretia is adeptly contained. They include the young lad strutting down a street in a blue-jean nappy, the voiceover boasting that he's got a full diaper in the portentous tone of fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld announcing his new spring line. We've also been treated to the sight of a male infant spraying the room as his desperate father tries to wrap him up.TV can't stop there, though, with depictions that young parents, at least, might find funny. Lately, compliments of the feminine pad-maker Poise, we've been treated to the excruciating revelation that Whoopi Goldberg, 55, "leaks."

"Sometimes I have a little spritz, you know?" she says, for some unknown reason dressed up as Mona Lisa. You couldn't pay most of us enough to admit to "light bladder leakage." In the case of no-holds-barred Goldberg, I'm surprised she stopped short of renaming The View, the TV show she cohosts, The P.U.

No doubt she tells herself she's performing a useful service for womankind, but anything that calls for Goldberg to dress up as the "Princess and the Pee" and an incontinent Statue of Liberty is not bringing dignity to anything.

Go to the website and you can watch Goldberg tied to a stake in a red robe as Joan of Arc, the national heroine of France and a Catholic saint. Goldberg's variation on The Maid of Orleans claims she cannot be burned in a hurry because she keeps dousing the flames with her urine. I kid you not.

How adding Poise to the situation would help Joan of Arc, I'm not sure, since it would hasten her immolation, but as a horrified observer I'd recommend tripling the pads.

Surely it's best for advertisers to take the clever route, as with one television commercial hawking a pill that treats erectile dysfunction. Here, the producers saw no need to drag in, à la Poise, a bummed-out Macbeth or the tortured figure from Edvard Munch's painting, The Scream. Nor is there a symphony of squeaking mattresses. The ad simply reveals that a certain guy hasn't shown up for one of his favourite male buddy activities, then shows him with a twinkle in his eye and an ageappropriate woman beaming in the background.

Imagine, in this day and age - a genuinely intimate topic, handled with taste and restraint in a commercial. Bravo.