tampabay.com

SheiKra shows her sexy side

And the Busch Gardens coaster isn't alone. More and more ad campaigns border on the risque to sell the most mundane of products.

By RODNEY THRASH
Published May 12, 2007


As commuters approach the city's northern end, the solicitations intensify.

"$0 down," says one billboard on Interstate 275.

"Free checking," says another.

Then just before the Busch Boulevard exit, this sign:

SEEKING

One last fling while I've still got it.

At the bottom, a toll-free number.

In the name of journalism, we dial.

"Hi, doll face," purrs the voice, a strange fusion of maternity and sensuality.

The woman on the line refers to callers as "honey" and "doll." She says "it's been a fun ride." She wants "one last fling-a-ding."

The horny pitchman?

Busch Gardens.

The Tampa theme park, which caters to families and children, started placing the signs on I-275 and other locations and in newspapers late last month.

Written like personal ads, the advertisements are part of a campaign to promote SheiKra, the first dive coaster in North America. It closes May 28 and a new, floor-less version of the ride opens June 16.

"It's tongue-in-cheek," says Gerard Hoeppner, a spokesman for Busch Gardens.

And?

"A play on words."

And?

"Creative copy."

And?

"Fresh."

How about racy?

"Define for me what racy means," Hoeppner says.

He points out that the billboard has the word "SheiKra" by the phone number.

"It's not graphic in anyway. It's very much sterilized. We think that the ad will appeal to the smart and witty coaster fans that will get the humor."

Anything can be sexy

Sex has long been a sales gimmick, but marketers seem to have found ways to sexualize the least erotic things.

Like church.

Last November, a woman stared seductively from a billboard on State Road 60. Scrawled across the left corner of the sign was MyRealSexLife.com. The link ultimately directed Internet users to the Web site of Relevant Church in Ybor City.

Or burgers.

In a 2005 advertisement promoting its spicy BBQ burger, fast-food chain Carl Jr. featured hotel heiress Paris Hilton in a skin-tight swimsuit writhing, sudsy, atop a Bentley before taking a sloppy bite out of the burger. You must be 18 to view the commercial on YouTube.

Even college dormitories.

In ads that did nothing to calm nervous University of South Florida parents, the managers of Fontana Hall in 2004 plastered images of chiseled men and busty women across the privately owned building.

One ad showed a bare-chested man between two dripping wet women in lingerie.

shower with friends . . . by choice, the ad said.

Another sign showed a toned man embracing a woman in a nightgown, his hand gripping her waist.

it's better at fontana

Catching your eye

"We live in a very cluttered world, so it's very hard for marketers to break through and get attention," says Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

"That's why marketers keep pushing the edge. There's a desire to be different. Some people just substitute sex for creativity and that's unfortunate."

Or is it smart?

"People are driving," says Hoeppner, the Busch Gardens spokesman. "You can't overload the board with a lot of copy.

"At some point, you see the same outdoor boards all the time and they become landscape wallpaper."

Busch Gardens can't quantify the success of the new campaign. The billboards just went up a couple of weeks ago.

But, Hoeppner says, "by keeping the message fresh, we're able to keep the appeal of the park fresh."

That may be true to an extent, says Calkins, the marketing professor.

"If all you do is attract attention," he says, "you won't necessarily attract sales. The brand and the product gets lost."

Still, Calkins doesn't see sex disappearing from commercials, radio spots or print ads any time soon. As hypersexual as American culture has become, expect more of it, he says.

Need proof?

Head toward Fowler Avenue and 50th Street. There's another, tamer Busch Gardens billboard:

LOOKING FOR

Long-term relationship w/ lots of fun.

Rodney Thrash can be reached at (727) 893-8352 or rthrash@sptimes.com.

 
ON THE PHONE

What a flirt

To hear a Barry White sound-alike pitching a Busch Gardens Fun Card, call toll-free 1-888-577-4500. For the female version pitching the SheiKra roller coaster, call toll-free 1-888-388-3088.