A friend of mine once flew from Frankfurt back to New Zealand after a couple of months backpacking around Europe. After enjoying one too many Bratwurst with her Weissbier and Kuchen with her Kaffee, the, erm, twins had grown considerably.
She was pretty self-conscious about them, and took to wearing loose clothing. For the flight back to New Zealand she was in jeans and a T-shirt – not exactly the stuff erotic dreams are made of.
But it seems it was all too much for a crusty old man sitting across the aisle and one seat up from her, who was two spark plugs away from blowing a gasket.
Throughout the flight, he would crane his neck, turning to stare, to the point where she wanted to inform him, “Those aren’t my eyes”.
Eventually she put a sweater on, his open leering making her distinctly uncomfortable. That didn’t deter him. He only ceased once she raised her middle finger and mouthed some four-letter words at him.
Such a scenario isn't uncommon. Very few women [generalisation alert] would be able to claim they’ve never been leered at, groped, touched against their will or been spoken to in a filthy manner.
Meanwhile, it’s a stretch for some men – who typically aren’t subjected to the same treatment – realise how badly unwanted sexual contact or communication affects the victim, or how the memories stick with them.
Society seems to have an invisible line drawn between outright sexual offences that beg prosecution and something that is usually brushed off, such as a “Show us yer tits, love” yelled out from a building site.
However, the concept of “verbal rape” is certainly one that’s tossed around in linguistic circles.
It describes an indecent communication that makes the recipient uncomfortable. Some would say it’s going a step too far to worry about verbal rape. In Scotland, it’s a jailable offence.
Air New Zealand’s new potty-mouthed puppet Rico would find himself striped up and in the slammer in no time.
The first time I saw the ads, I sort of half-laughed. Since then, I’ve felt vaguely uncomfortable about them, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. However, the terms “verbal rape” and “indecent communication” describe the filthy muppet to a tee.
Air New Zealand has kindly created a verbal rapist and let him loose upon the world.
I can’t imagine anything worse than having to sit next to a pervert like Rico on a flight – even if it were only Auckland to Hamiltron – and whenever I think about Air New Zealand now, I get a vaguely uneasy feeling.
Like my friend with her oversized norks made to feel uncomfortable by the leering git across the aisle, the prospect of Rico’s innuendos being cracked within your immediate vicinity – and being unable to get away – is distinctly unpleasant and invokes a feeling of uneasiness.
What he does with those gropey little hands under the cabin blanket is another matter altogether.
Ultimately, the muppet is not a creation Air New Zealand should be proud of. It’s frightening the airline thinks that a creepy, furry, latent offender is the best way to represent our national carrier – and our country.
The only way it can redeem itself after this is to rescind the ads, appoint a lead agency that understands long-term brand building, and quit with the sexy times.
(The real mystery here is why Air New Zealand isn't attempting ads that show off its product. Excellence abounds, so why not highlight it?)
Perverts aside, it seems unfortunately Rico is here to stay, and he’s going to get "edgier". While Air New Zealand isn’t keen to talk about the muppet, CEO Rob Fyfe said in an international interview that we’ve only had a glimpse of him so far, and that the puppet himself will be seen on flights.
“How do you reach out to different markets?” Mr Fyfe said. “If you put a human into the ads, you stereotype people’s image of what sort of people you’re trying to engage with.”
Agency 99 may not be to blame. Mr Fyfe said the catalyst came from Air New Zealand internally, while the agency helped bring it to life.
“The idea of using a character like Rico is that you can appeal to a broad cross-section of our customer base. We don’t want it just to be adult humour, or just to appeal to people like you and I – probably a bit weird – we want it to get out there and reach everyone.”
Qantas here we come.