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Adfail, For Men

December 17, 2010

Ah, the run-up to Christmas. The season when advertising gets even more inane than usual, as every company turns up its metaphorical volume in the hope of catching consumers’ attention amidst the shiny things and flashing lights. Every last little pointless item is dressed up in its best hoping to catch the unwary shopper off their guard.

This is in theory the season of giving, meaning that companies have to pay at least lipservice to the idea that their customers are buying X product not for themselves but for someone else. However, it’s a lot easier psychologically to justify blowing money on a present for somebody else if you yourself will directly benefit as well, and so advertisers aim squarely for the “present for them but also for me!” reflex.

Usually this means marketing something aimed at one half of a (heterosexual, nearly always) couple via its (assumed) benefit to the other one.* Hence the million and one adverts for gadgets intended for dudes that are marketed to women with the promise of keeping men quiet or out of the way; an awful lot of lingerie ads; and crap like IGN’s Gamer Girl Gift Guide, which contains no actual games (protip: those are usually what people self-identified as gamers are most interested in.)

Today’s adfail was one for Nivea For Men, which in its tone of overdone, slightly desperate emphasis on how-manly-it-totally-is always feels to me like it should be voiced by that guy who narrated the Powerthirst videos.**

Nivea For Men comes in a slightly boxier, snazzier, chrome-and-blue package than plain old Nivea but which is otherwise the same so far as I can tell. The advert showed two packets of Nivea For Men – that’s two packets of Nivea For Men, not one packet of Nivea For Men and one of Nivea Not For Men; this will be important later – under a sprig of mistletoe, nestled over one another in what I guess is the closest you can get to representing a kiss when the participants are small foil sachets.

This charming tableau was accompanied by the imperative to “Make your man more kissable this Christmas!” and, underneath in smaller letters “1.8 million women already have!” (I’m pretty sure the number was 1.8 million, though I’m not entirely certain. A pretty large number, anyway, with no immediately legible explanation of how they arrived at it.)

I find the set of assumptions at work in this ad fascinating, in a vaguely depressing kind of way. Firstly, there’s the sheer incongruity of marketing a product that is For Men, that has For Men in its very title and emblazoned on it in big letters so you can be reassured at every turn that it is For Men and shore up your teetering masculinity,*** to women.

Secondly, there’s an interesting disconnect between the way this is phrased and the way that Nivea For Men’s Advertising To Men goes; moisturising and grooming products for men are notorious for trying to make moisturising sound more manly – the latest euphemism I’ve personally come across is “face protector”. Really. Yet here the moisturiser is clearly being sold as, well, moisturiser: ‘more kissable’ in this context surely implies softer skin. (At least, it’s the only factor in the kissing process I can imagine a moisturising cream improving; I seriously doubt that applying goop to one’s jawline will cure halitosis, inexperience or lack of interest.) So there’s that.

Then there’s the underscored heteronormativity of the whole thing. Adverts conveniently forgetting the existence of gay relationships are pretty much par for the course, but in this specific case it gave me pause, because cosmetic and grooming products are one of the few arenas where advertisers do tend to at least nod to the gay market: the stereotype of the pampered, style-obsessed gay guy is alive and well. It would have been easy to hit exactly the same buttons in this advert without the insistence on the heterosexuality of it all, most obviously by leaving out the word ‘women’ and leaving it as 1.8 million unspecified people who kiss men.

With the advert so emphatically straight, it tickled me that – as mentioned above – both the little Nivea sachets under the sprig of mistletoe were of Nivea For Men. Oops.


*Though you do occasionally get toys advertised with the implication that the parents will be the ones having most of the fun. Speaking as someone whose parents enjoyed building enormous Lego spaceships and intricate, multi-level, lounge-floor-spanning Brio tracks at least as much as we did, there is truth in this.

**Nivea! The facial moisturiser for MEN! MENSTRUISER!

***I remain gobsmacked as to how much of the advertising directed at men is just plain insulting, predicated on the assumptions that men are any or all of a) stupid, b) childish, c) incapable of handling any fragile object or complex task without breaking it, d) slobbering sex-crazed simpletons, or e) so insecure in their masculinity that mere proximity to something vaguely feminine can damage it beyond repair.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Xémuç Guiri permalink
    December 17, 2010 3:15 am

    I bet some low-level advertising genius did make it Men kissing Not Men, but then the client said, “We’re trying to sell Nivea for Men here, why did you put the other product there?” “But it’s…” “But me no buts, you’re always pulling shit like this.” Or maybe I’ve been watching too much *Mad Men* and my brain now thinks all ad writers are misunderstood geniuses held down by their stupid clients, instead of the scum of the earth as I previously thought.

    Nivea for Men is just Nivea, I guarantee it. And I’ve been using women’s deodorant for two years, ever since I realised that Lynx smells like desperate teenage boy and no one thinks men want a deodorant that doesn’t stain your clothes. But plenty of brands have Unperfumed Antiperspirant for Men and Unperfumed Antiperspirant for Women, lined up right there on the shelf, as if it’s not the same stuff in both cans.

    Basically men on the whole don’t feel that grooming products are for them. You remember that line in Friends?
    RACHEL: I was just coming over to borrow some moisturizer from Chandler.
    CHANDLER: How hard is it to say “something”? I was coming over to borrow something from Chandler”!
    The “For Men” thing is trying to create a new market, and the words “For Men” are the key part: the idea that if we see a product with “For Men” written on it, we will think men must use moisturiser/conditioner/whatever, because this one is not for women, so maybe it is okay to use this stuff. Personally, I’ve never used conditioner in my life, not even fabric conditioner, and Nivea (Not For Men) travels with me only because my mum puts it in my bag without telling me, and only comes into play several days after my lips start cracking. Then again, the can of black-dress-friendly Dove that also travels with me suggests that this is not out of concern for my masculinity, so I am probably not the target market for these “GILETTE IS FOR JET PILOTS” things.

    (By the way, this is still Seamus, but I found out that *guiri* is the Catalán for “foreigner”, and the coincidence was too good to resist.)

  2. thirithch permalink
    December 17, 2010 7:41 am

    It’s only tangentially related, but on the topic of insulting advertising directed at men you may want to check out this trailer for an upcoming game, Warriors of Elysia: Quite honestly, are any men (that are over the age of 12 and have had some interaction with the world out there) turned on by this sort of thing?

    Talking about heteronormativity and the like, is it just me or are ads becoming more reactionary in the families they depict? I get the impression that families in advertising these days are almost always dads who go to work, mums who stay home to look after the kids and whose only interests are what detergent to buy and what to cook for dinner, and the obligatory two retchworthily-cute-as-buttons kids. Again, something that you could leave open much of the time.

    By the way, thanks for writing one of the most intelligent blogs on these issues. I’m always glad for the break from work when there’s an update on This Wicked Day. 🙂

  3. December 17, 2010 8:23 pm

    @Seamus: Or perhaps it was an oppressed copywriter doing their bit to sneak in off-message messages. Are you familiar with the work of Dorothy L. Sayers? All her Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries are very good, but Murder Must Advertise is my favourite and produced in me exactly the same conviction that Mad Men seems to have done in you – all the ad writers in it are constantly wrestling with intractable clients who want them to mention this year’s buzzword more often, or put in a picture of their special patent grinding machine, or include more dire customer testimonials, and who have no concept of how much space is available or how much the average consumer can be expected to read. Anyway! Sayers was a damn good mystery writer. (Her translation of the Inferno is also v. good.)

    Oh man, you only mentioned it tangentially, but seriously: razor adverts take bizarre man-aimed advertising (manvertising!) to the next level. It’s as if they feel like with the advent of the safety razor and the reclassification of shaving as ‘mild chore’ rather than ‘daily brush with death’, shaving has to be re-manlified. Hence the adverts that are actually for razors but which you would think were for spaceships given how ridiculously whizzy they are.

    @thirithch: I think you may have touched on the crux of this with your parenthetical – regardless of men over 12 who have had contact with the real world, game advertising tends to be targeted at a (mostly mythical) teenage nerd who has never yet left his parents’ basement.

    I don’t think ads have got more heteronormative, particularly; just that they’ve stayed pretty much as conventional as they ever were, while other segments of society have begun to move away, and so the adverts appear reactionary by comparison.

    In this respect I was pleasantly surprised by the 2010 IKEA catalogue – which I meant to blog about but never did – which used family models of all colours, and also a good mix of which parents/which kids were doing what: there were shots illustrated with dads holding kids, and I remember the spread advertising the own-brand toys had a little boy at the toy stove and a little girl with the model trains. One of the bed illustrations had what could have been a gay, straight or lesbian couple – all you could really see was smiles and short-ish hair. So some advertisers are moving with the times, even if others aren’t.

    And thanks for the compliments – very much appreciated (/embarrassed)

  4. December 29, 2010 1:16 am

    These types of ads have been bothering me for a long time. Good to know I’m not alone. And for the record even their products weren’t so full of alcohol they were useless I’d still never buy anything from Axe and their line of “Want to have sex with girls? Then use our products!!!!” line of advertising.

    It’s only tangentially related, but on the topic of insulting advertising directed at men you may want to check out this trailer for an upcoming game, Warriors of Elysia: Quite honestly, are any men (that are over the age of 12 and have had some interaction with the world out there) turned on by this sort of thing?
    Sadly enough technologically speaking the game actually looks a bit impressive (assuming thats a relatively small development/production house) and if it wasn’t depending on “sex sells” I might would play it. What I find odd is that companies that make these games have to know that they have a short shelf life (in fact I’ve never even heard of this game and its actually a sequel). It’ll be the new flashy T&A game for about a year then fade away (kinda like Bayonetta). Perhaps they depend on that because it means they get a steady flow of cash from consumers without having to really think?

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