By Robert Mader,
NEW YORK – Toto's advertising campaign for its Washlet bidet seat has proven to be too avant garde for Times Square. Toto announced its "Clean is Happy " ad campaign at the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show in Las Vegas that included an image of naked derrieres with smiley faces drawn on them (July, p. 26). Toto said that the image would be used in advertising, on a new Website, showroom displays, and on two billboards, one in Times Square and the other in West Hollywood on the Sunset Strip.
The content of the billboard, however, offended a non-denominational church in Times Square when it discovered that the billboard was going to be put up on its building. The church sued its landlord and the billboard company.
Justice Marcy S. Friedman of the Supreme Court of the State of New York temporarily halted installation of the billboard so she could study the issues. Toto compromised by placing a white strip across the backsides on the billboard.
"It is instantaneously obvious that this advertisement is too indecent for public display," said Neil Rhodes, associate pastor of Times Square Church, in his affidavit attached to the suit. In its suit, the church noted that it conducted services and programs seven days a week, many of them directed to children and teenagers.
The church maintained that, "carrying out a holy mission in a building defaced by this kind of indecency will be at least greatly hampered and perhaps impossible."
The church also feared that some observers would think that the church condoned the material because it appeared on its building.
Toto decided that it made no sense to argue with a church. The billboard was originally scheduled to be erected at the beginning of July. On July 30, Toto announced that it would place a wide white bar across the "happy bottoms" on its "Clean is Happy" billboard, in effect, "clothing" them by removing any hint of their anatomical features. The billboards, which wrap the building on the corner of 51st Street and Broadway, sport two headlines:
"Clean is happy. No ifs, ands, or ... & Discover the Washlet at cleanishappy.com," and " This is our bottom line. cleanishappy.com."
Toto indicated the decision to alter the Times Square billboard's content was motivated by its business objectives for the "Clean is Happy " campaign. As the company pointed out, an effective outdoor advertising bill-board's sole purpose is to create consumer awareness for the product being marketed. When a billboard's content or theme creates a situation whereby its primary marketing aim, advertising the Washlet and raising U.S. consumer awareness of the system, becomes secondary to distractions that draw attention away from the company's business goals, it's time to change the advertising, the company said.
"Our thought-provoking ‘Clean is Happy ' billboard is not intended to offend," said Lenora Campos, public relations manager. "Its nude ‘happy bottoms' graphic is a visual tool used to convey the idea that when people feel clean, they are confident, more comfortable, and, yes, happier."
Since the product's introduction in 1980, Toto's Washlets have sold more than 17 million units worldwide. Currently, 2.7 million Washlets are sold annually in Japan, where the bidet seats have deeper market penetration than microwave ovens, according to Toto.
"We believe so strongly in the Washlet that we seek nothing less here in the U.S.," said Campos. "In its short 15-year history in the U.S., the Washlet has amassed thousands, upon thousands of ardent fans. We believe that as more and more Americans become aware of this effective modern approach to personal hygiene, they, too, will enthusiastically adopt it."
Toto will maintain the original nude "happy bottoms" creative content in online advertising, marketing collateral, billboards along West Hollywood's Sunset Strip as well as an element on its new Website devoted to the Washlet, www.cleanishappy.com.