Ad Men: The Most Interesting Trend in the World

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Images: oldspice.com, dosequis.com, BBDO

Men in television advertising are often portrayed as barely sentient morons, emasculated husbands, or literate cavemen.  So in other words, according to many of my friends of the fairer sex, accurately.  But over the last couple of years, any couch potato worth his bacon can't help but notice Madison Avenue has taken a few baby steps toward the old-school masculinity we like to think our fathers exhibited when they were splashing on the Hai Karate and letting their chest hair flourish. Maybe it's the nostalgic influence of Mad Men.

But the problem in current advertising is that a lot of these commercials--and by implication society--still can't agree on the male ideal. That's where I come in. After thousands of hours of watching TV and surfing YouTube over the past year, I've culled half a dozen commercials or campaigns that illustrate as a group the mostly sorry--but mildly hopeful--state of men in advertising today.  I'll judge them here, in no particular order, by the only manliness standard that counts: mine. (Though I did save the best for last.)

Not since the movie American Psycho has a filmed date been so unnerving.  These three long-form ads feature your choice of dream guys:  Brad, Trevor, or Ryan.  Each commercial follows a particular pattern. The hunk is seen from the point of view of a woman just walking in, presumably on her first date. Then the men proceed to do dreamy stuff like vacuuming and talking about their moms, before making an excuse to take off their shirts. This, of course, reveals a perfect Marky Mark shaved torso. Then they quickly steer the conversation around to "thinness" or "moisture," which gives them the chance to show you their maxipad collection.   
 
OK, let's just stop right here. If you're on a first date with a guy, and he quickly makes an excuse to take off his shirt, and then decides to show you his feminine product collection, you should slowly but immediately start backing toward the door. You know how you sometimes hit the wrong button on your Blackberry and it says "Are you sure you want to make an emergency call?" This is the one time in your life you hit "YES."  It might be your only chance to get away from this crazed Hannibal Lecter with a sixpack.

I rank this series low on the manliness scale--because of the shaved chests and the vacuuming and mom talk--but high on the I-won't-be-able-to-sleep-tonight scale.

First of all, let's get the obvious thing out of the way.  If you're "manning up," are you drinking light beer?  No.  No, you are not.  In fact, if you're drinking Miller Lite, you're barely even drinking beer at all. These commercials are not only stupid; they're offensive.   
 
In the "Purse or Carryall" ad, a guy walks up to a bar and says he wants a light beer and "I don't care how it tastes."  So the hot female bartender says "when you start caring, put down your purse and I'll give you a Miller Lite," which is off the charts on the unintentionally funny chart because she says she'll give him a Miller Lite when he starts caring about taste.  But instead of telling her what most guys at a bar would tell her, which I will leave to your imagination; he skulks off with his purse. I mean carryall.

This commercial rates low on both manliness and coherence, but high on the unintended comedy scale.

This ad features football Hall of Famer Howie Long in the role of the menacing schoolyard bully, who for some reason likes to stand around and watch guys load their trucks.  He looks on with disdain as a guy awkwardly uses his "man step" to get out of the bed of his Ford F-150.  Then Howie derisively says, "You left your little ... uh ... man step down." The guy sheepishly folds it back up, and then the announcer intones: "Would you rather have a Ford F-150 with a man step, or a Silverado...?" The problem with this ad is that I would totally rather have the man step, and I don't think that makes me any less manly.  More likely it means I need a hip replacement soon.

But the announcer is insinuating that I am a wuss if I drive a Ford.

This is another in a long line of truck and beer commercials that confuse bullying with being manly.  I rate it low on manliness, and high on idiocy.

This ad for the ugly Dodge Charger car shows a bunch of wimpy guys staring forlornly at the camera while the voiceover guy, Michael C. Hall, the actor who garnered fame playing a serial killer on Showtime's Dexter, says stuff like: "I will eat some fruit as part of my breakfast," or "I will say yes when you want me to say yes," or "I will watch your vampire TV shows with you." For some reason, very near the end, the voiceover gets all tough and says: "I will drive the car I want to drive." The commercial ends with the words, "Charger, Man's Last Stand." If that's my last stand as a man, I've really led a sad and empty life.  
 
This one isn't manly at all, it's barely even awake. It's depressing and sad and makes me want to drive my Dodge Charger over a cliff. If I had one. But I drive a stick-shift Hyundai Accent, which is the epitome of manly cars.

These viral commercials for Old Spice body wash are all the rage these days--rightfully so--and have made a minor celebrity out of Isaiah Mustafa, the star of the campaign. They are hilarious, they're well written, and Mustafa deserves the accolades and attention. I love them, and I've been guilty of saying "swan dive!" for no real reason or in inappropriate circumstances.  
But on the manliness scale, I have two big problems: one, it looks like he shaves his chest; and two, he's selling body wash. To guys. Whatever happened to a bar of soap? Therefore, I am forced to rate this campaign medium manly, but high on the intentionally comedic and likability scale.

I don't always write about beer ads, but when I do, I like to write about "The Most Interesting Man in the World." And in this case, I have definitely saved the best for last. This campaign for Dos Equis beer is the manliest series of ads to come out of the advertising world since ever, though this particular campaign began about a year and a half ago. In one ad, our hero--played by 71-year-old actor Jonathan Goldsmith--is asked to comment on the "manscaping" trend. The camera zooms in close, as he sits surrounded by his usual bevy of beautiful women, and he says simply, "I have no idea what this is."  Perfect.   
 
He's so cool, "sharks have a week designated to him," and he "once had an awkward moment, just to see what it felt like." Even the kicker is manly: "I don't always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis.  Stay thirsty, my friends." (OK, the "stay thirsty" thing doesn't really make sense because you're supposed to be drinking beer, but it's OK because of all of the manliness.)  Plus, I like it that he's old and hairy, and not one of the slack-jawed 20-something doofuses we're used to seeing in beer ads.
 
This is one of the few times in my life that I consciously started drinking a type of beer because of a commercial. When I drink beer, that is. Which I don't always do. (That's a lie.) And you can damn well bet our man doesn't shave his chest or use body wash. Well, at least not the fictional character that I have a man crush on, anyway. The real-life actor lives on a 50-foot sailboat in Marina Del Rey, according to an article entitled "The Most Interesting Jew in the World," that I found online.
 
So, in closing, I declare the Dos Equis campaign the winner on all fronts: manliest, funniest, smartest, and most effective. This fictional combination of James Bond and cool 70s rabbi is a blast, and our hero does it all while remaining hirsute and comfortable in his own skin.

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