Sept. 11, 2007 — -- A risqué new television ad for the acne medication Clearasil is called "May Cause Confidence," but what it's really causing is controversy.
A teen featured in the Clearasil commercial gains so much confidence he even hits on his friend's mother. In another Clearasil ad, a teen sits on the couch between his girlfriend and her mother, who is showing him naked baby pictures of the girl. "You should see me now," the girlfriend says suggestively to the boy.
Why would a company with a traditionally wholesome image knowingly cause such a stir?
"They might be looking at research saying teenagers have changed, we need to keep up with the times, we need to become more overtly sexual and a little more out there with our advertising," said Eric Hirshberg, president and chief creative officer at the Deutsch ad agency in Los Angeles.
"At the same time they're messing with what has been a pretty successful brand that's had a very different tonality for a long time," he said.
For its part, Clearasil said their customers see the ads as intended -- a humorous and unrealistic presentation of an awkward family event.
Last year, American teens spent $179 billion, so they're a prime target for creative advertisers.
In a new racy ad featuring a hot teacher dancing on a desk and classroom full of students, the Carl's Jr. fast-food restaurant wants to sell kids a patty with "two flat buns" (wink, nudge).
Those buns caught the eye of the Tennessee Educational Association, which demanded the ad be pulled.
Carl's Jr. said that commercial isn't meant to demean teachers, it's just a funny hamburger ad for their target audience.
That wasn't the first sexed up ad for the burger chain -- they made a splash last year with a commercial featuring a scantily clad Paris Hilton eating a burger while sudsing up a car.
The pressure to "shock and awe" consumers, and not just teenagers, is even greater for little known companies.
A print ad in Runner's World magazine from the small shoe company Pearl Izumi has stopped many readers dead in their tracks.
It reads: "Ever notice how it's always runners who find dead bodies?" It goes on to say, "Better lace 'em up because someone somewhere is missing."
Pearl Izumi said its purpose was to create some buzz while going after the hard-core mature runner.
The company created buzz, but not all of it positive. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, according to Hirshberg.
"Controversy is not a problem as long as you can take the heat, you've got to really not mind alienating the people outside of your target, in order to get a more exaggerated response and reaction from your target," Hirshberg said.