Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Vanishing Coppertone Girl

THE OTHER day some of the Platypus team made a run to the local Walmart for office supplies.  At the front of the store near the registers where we waited in line to check out, we noticed a sizeable display for Coppertone sunscreen products

In addition to the rows of bottles and sprays of various colors and SPF markings, we couldn’t help but see the large beach scene depicted in a picture at the top of the display.  In it a girl of about seven years runs along the beach wearing something like a swimsuit / sundress combo that extends from her shoulders to her knees.  A small black dog follows with his mouth “politely” near-closed.

Your Bare Platypus team will now date themselves by remarking that the above-described picture is nothing like Coppertone’s signature illustration that the company began using in the late 1950’s.  In THAT iconic (now vanishing) image, a little girl sporting pigtails runs along the beach with a little black dog behind her, but the dog is pulling on her two-piece swimsuit bottom to reveal her entire, very pale, very naked, bum. A nervous finger at the side of her mouth connotes embarrassment at her unexpected “wardrobe malfunction.”

We understand that this logo, regularly shown in some form on virtually all Coppertone ads through the 1960’s and 70’s, was the work of artist Joyce Ballentine Brand, who used her daughter as the model for the bashful tyke.  The scene once graced huge billboards and even the side of a building near Miami Beach.

The disappearance of the Coppertone Girl was to be expected, we suppose.  She had been working on her vanishing act for more than a decade.  Perhaps it began with the mega-purchase of Schering-Plough, parent of the Coppertone brand, by yet another even larger mega company that didn’t seem to care for tradition.  Perhaps it was the rumored (although never substantiated) appeals from child-protection groups calling for an end to Little Ms. Coppertone because her bare derriere was “child pornography” and degrading in their eyes. Just as likely, the threat of skin cancer from overexposure to the sun’s rays meant sun safety and full covering on the beach trumped exposed skin.

In any event, the logo morphed over time from the full bare-butt shot that first caught beachgoers’ attention when Ike was President.  Gone was the contrasting pale skin of the gal’s bum and dark tan. Gone was the two-piece in favor of a one-piece that the dog pulled down to the small of her back. (This was just goofy.  What did the dog do? Jump up near the girl’s neck like a wear wolf  and pull the lycra off her shoulders???)

Ah. Ce’ La Vie.  The Coppertone girl is no longer with us.  You’ll find no political correctness among us about this, however.  We thought the advertisement in its original form was just plain CUTE. The picture spoke 1,000 words making you instantly understand that you would tan, not burn, if you used the product, but could only tan where you used it.

Bare Platypus does hope that those  charged with responsibility for promoting and protecting nude travel are taking notes.  When bare bottoms and tans are too controversial for a company that built its entire brand around them, can our industry be far behind in making a vanishing act?