Psychoanalytic Excavation

A Look at What Lies beneath the Surface of Human Behavior and Motivation

What's with the infinitely irritating Cialis bathtubs?

Humans don't like meaninglessness

I apologize in advance.  But I can't take it anymore.  I freely admit this is not at all a timely posting. I'm just hoping to get my intense aggravation with the Cialis bathtubs finally out of my system.  I hoped it would go away.  But it hasn't, and now I hope this post will do the trick.

So here goes (better late than never):  What's with the bathtubs?

picture of couple in bathtubs in ocean

As a physician, I think Cialis, produced by Eli Lilly, is a perfectly fine drug for erectile dysfunction (at least to my knowledge) and serves a very useful purpose. I just hate the ads, which seem to be stunningly pervasive.  Tonight I watched the news for two hours and the bathubs ads were on at least twice.

A quick search on the Internet yields an inordinate number of blog postings expressing the same intense frustration with the bathtubs that appear relentlessly in the Cialis commercials. For some interesting discussion, try this blog 

I'm sure Eli Lilly makes a good profit on the sales of Cialis.  Maybe the company  thinks that  the bathtub ads  are selling the drug.  I think they are extraordinarily mistaken.  The drug sells itself in spite of the ads.  They (Lilly and its ad company) could argue, "hey you know the name, don't you?  You remember our ads, don't you?  What more could we want?"  Well, how about not provoking your market into near insanity.  

So what's wrong with the ad from a psychoanalyst's point of view? I'll start with some side issues and work up to the dreaded bathtubs.

First (and I hate to have to say it) but the vast majority of people do not like to see old people becoming sexually aroused.  Even old people don't much like to see it! It's not that we don't think older people should have sex.  Sure they should.   We'd just rather not look at it or think about it. 

This aversion is not because of some ageist prejudice-the reason is more interesting and more complex.  The cause has to do with something from our ancient pasts-we don't like to think of our parents having sex. So in our unconscious minds, the couple in the ads are roughly equivalent to our parents--no matter how old we are.   In our inner minds, none of us really thinks of ourselves as 60 or 70 even if we are.  It's a paradox-the ever-lasting child in us hates seeing our parents be sexy. 

Second.   All that nutty photomontage of dissolving walls and rising gardens and erupting bridges and emerging oceans is Incredibly annoying.  Because it doesn't make any sense.  It is stupid and meaningless, and human beings do not like stupid and meaningless unless it is clearly defined as comedy.  Which it isn't in the Cialis ads.

Now we come to the "two bathtubs" shot, always taken from behind.  The couple appears to be naked, each in one bathtub.  The tubs are separated-- the couple is holding hands.  I guess the implication is that these attractive older folks have successfully done the deed and now they're in a relaxed post-coital state.  The bathtubs are not in a bathroom, or even a spa.  They have no plumbing. They are in the middle of nowhere logical.  The viewer isn't sharing the couple's satisfaction, s/he is thinking BUT WHAT DO THE BATHTUBS MEAN?  WHAT DO THEY SIGNIFY?  NOTHING!!! 

Why is this so aggravating?  Human beings, as stupid as we can be sometimes, are dedicated meaning- seekers.  We don't like meaninglessness.  It makes us uneasy, rubs us the wrong way.  The Cialis bathtubs defy millennium of linguistic meaning-seeking.  People have worked incredibly hard over the millenia to accomplish  the amazing linguistic accomplishment of giving words meaning-"chair" is inextricably linked to the actual object, the thing you sit on, and to the function of sitting.  This is satisfying and calming.  A "bathtub" is linked to the object that holds a lot of water for bathing, and the function of taking a bath.  This is called, in linguistics, the signified and the signifier (the word "chair" is the word,

a dining chair
 the signifier; the object you sit on is the thing signified). The bathtubs in the Cialis ads disconnect signified with signifier and not in a fun way.

 

In one misguided pseudo creative stroke, the makers of Cialis and their advertising agency ignore this basic human principle-that words should mean something,.  Objects should have a meaningful purpose.  As humans, we count on meaning to keep ourselves organized.

 

 

The key thing here is the distinctions between absurdity, fancy and meaninglessness.  Absurdity can be comic, and provide relief from the everyday rigors of reality as well as a sometimes complex commentary on the vagaries of living.  Flights of fantasy can be diverting. But pure meaninglessness is disruptive and disorganizing for the human psyche.  And, I would argue, meaninglessness is not a good way to sell a product.

 

Eli Lilly has not helped itself by creating a monument to meaninglessness.  The fact that the ads have etched a permanent association in peoples minds between Cialis and older people having sex in a bathtub in the middle of nowhere  is not good for Lilly or for us. How about this: How about an ad with some striking  image (that is not nonsensical) and an announcer saying something like "Cialis is a great drug for erectile dysfunction and you don't have to take it right before sex which is really convenient?" The market would rejoice.

 

 

 

 

Prudence Gourguechon, M.D., served as President of the American Psychoanalytic Association from 2008-2010. She has a clinical and consulting practice in Chicago.

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