Adfail, For Men
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.