When a Limp Dick Has Been Used as a Marketing Scare Tactic

Scared straight?

More like scared limp.

Or scared into thinking that you might go limp.

For nearly 500 years, the threat of impotence has been used to cajole men into abandoning something marketers (and/or public health campaigns) want them to leave behind. Sometimes this has been for their own good — like giving up smoking. Other times, the request has been more self-serving — like giving up meat. But one thing always remains the same: They all prey on the timeless male fear of going soft at the most inopportune/embarrassing moment.

Here are a few of the campaigns that have pushed that consequence the, um, hardest.

As far as we can tell, the first ad to use male impotence as a deterrent was from the 1670s. It was seemingly half satire, half public-health initiative as the coffee industry had proclaimed all these wondrous effects of a cup of joe — all of which were dubious. Even more dubious: the “The Womens [sic] Petition Against Coffee,” which used humor to debunk these claims — as well as alleged that coffee would sink a man’s sex drive (because of its chemical and cultural properties). “The satirist accuses coffee-house habitués of being ‘effeminate’ because they spend their time talking, reading and pursuing their business rather than carousing, drinking and whoring,” author Markman Ellis wrote in his 2005 book The Coffee-House: A Cultural History. One of the funnier passages:

… the Excessive use of that Newfangled, Abominable, Heathenish Liquor called COFFEE, which Riffling Nature of her Choicest Treasures, and Drying up the Radical Moisture, has so Eunucht our Husbands that they are become as unfruitful as those Desarts [deserts] whence that unhappy Berry is said to be brought.

Three hundred or so years later in 1993, an ad appeared on Sunset Boulevard in L.A. that used the famed Marlboro Man as its subject to convey a similar message: Smoking causes impotence. The tactic — imagining that the Marlboro Man couldn’t get it up (or that his product would ensure that you couldn’t get it up) — proved quite popular.

So did a number of other metaphors for smoking making your boner go up in smoke. For example, your balls as ashtray in this print ad for a 2001 anti-smoking campaign in Brazil.

…and your ash as your dwindling erection (via a 2005 commercial created by the U.K.’s National Health Services).

Or this 2011 commercial from the Cancer Patients Aid Association that turned the cigarettes-as-sexy cliché on its head.

As well as this PSA a year later, which is a variation on the same theme — i.e., smoking isn’t so sexy after all, since it’ll do as much damage to your libido as it will to your lungs.

This parody ad from Adbusters linking impotence to booze is obviously more of a joke than a crusade, but still, whiskey dick is a real thing? Right? RIGHT?!?!

Never one to play coy, PETA regularly uses impotence as a means of separating man from his non-euphemistic meat. In fairness, they also have an incredible amount of phallic fruits, vegetables and dastardly sausages with which to prove their point.

Bananas and hot dogs particularly:

They’ve also tried to go as big as possible with their message, attempting to air meat-as-boner-killer ads during the 2008 and 2016 Super Bowls. Both, however, proved to be too hot for TV and were banned from the airwaves (which may have been a deliberate tactic).

They’ll always have billboards, though.

Andrew Fiouzi is MEL’s editorial assistant. He last wrote about why men always drive on dates.

More on impotence: