The past five-plus years of male targeted advertising have been pretty painful to watch. Yes, I know that ads are always painful to watch, but they’ve been particularly excruciating for a while now. You can blame this on the glut of advertisers trying just about every tactic imaginable to convince us that modern men have some sort of masculinity deficit disorder while offering their products as the cure. They’ve tried shaming us, yelling at us, virtually slapping us, and even comparing us to our great-grandpas (well someone’s grandpa, certainly not mine). In the past year however I began to notice a change. Suddenly it seemed, these crude and caveman like cries to MAN UP!!! and buy whatever was being sold appeared to slither back into whatever hole they came from. I started to wonder, have advertisers finally tired of shoving visions of regressive masculinity down our throats? Of course not! They’ve just become a bit more subtle in their approach.
The latest angle found in these manly ads as I like to call them, takes a bit more of a historical approach. Literally. If you think about it, it makes sense right? What better way to sell regression than to look into the past, smooth down some rough edges and inconvenient truths, then hold it up as a shining example of true manhood, the way it used to –and according to them– ought to be again. The tactic goes a little something like this; take a real life man (or family) and subtly show us how tough, manly and regal they were (even if this entails plenty of make-believe). It’s aspirational advertising to the core. “Isn’t this exciting? Don’t you want to be like this?” nudge, nudge, wink, wink. “Use our product and some of our manliness will rub off on you…” they implore. Their pitch? “A slice of this rich, manly history is yours for the taking (prices may vary).” There have been four recent campaigns that have leaned heavily on this approach. Let’s examine them and you’ll see what I mean:
Jameson’s Irish Whisky
First up is Jameson’s. Their current campaign takes real man John Jameson and turns him into a hero of legend. Imaginary Jameson is a handsome Irishman who will go to any length to protect his whisky. This includes diving into the deep-sea to fight giant octopi, taking down mythological birds, rescuing Ireland and of course, random women. By the way, the ad makes it clear that no one, including Jameson, cared enough about the Mason’s daughter to try to rescue her! Had Jameson’s whisky not been stolen that poor woman would have been left alone forever.
Anyway, Jameson’s imaginary feats reach twelve labours of Hercules levels of manliness, making this campaign’s version of history obviously fake. The real John Jameson was actually Scottish, didn’t sport a beard and being a mere mortal clearly never battled humongous hawks, Krakens or another fantasy creatures. He was just a former lawyer who bought a distillery (he didn’t found it as some mistakenly believe). Guess there wasn’t enough hyper-masculinity in his real story so they had to pump him up a bit…
Captain Morgan Spiced Rum
Not to be outdone in the battle of semi-fictional men of legend, Captain Morgan has their own embellishment worthy figure primed and ready to go. As you can see in the ad below, this campaign depicts Captain Morgan (who according to paintings also didn’t sport a beard) as a handsome pirate, rescuing only the hottest of wenches from the clutches of decrepit old makeup wearing socialites. And he does it all in the name of rum! Of course they leave out the fact that Sir Henry Morgan, the real Captain Morgan, was probably not so handsome or fun (unless you worked for him I guess) as he was in fact a notoriously ruthless Pirate. Of course they leave that part out. Still, you’d think a cousin marrying rapist, thief and torturer wouldn’t make the best spokesman for your product. Oh that’s right… he was a real man and that’s what real men do. How could I forget?
Next up, Bacardi. Compared to the rest, this campaign is relatively tame and low on the embellishments. The Bacardi family does have a pretty interesting history. They of course leave out the current state of the Bacardi’s; not exactly tight and like a lot of rich families, fighting over money (among other issues). But that’s a side note. What really bothers me about the ad is this; why in an ad about a family with such a rich history are we seeing only this one guy? I get that he’s probably meant to represent the patriarch of the family, Facundo Bacardi (a Spanish immigrant to Cuba and founder of the original Bacardi distillery) but are you telling me that no women contributed to the success of the family?
I’ll give them credit for not embellishing the history of one man, or the family. But instead, they’re choosing to disregard a major part of the family (the women) and frame the family’s success as a purely masculine endeavor. Wouldn’t have been just as powerful an ad if a family walked united through the crowd (a pretty monochromatic crowd at that. If those people are supposed to represent Cubans or the people of the Caribbean in general, someone needs to fire that casting director!)? Either way, the “hey look at how rich and great and rich this rich family is, don’t you want to be like them? Cool, then buy our product” approach doesn’t make me want to drink Bacardi at all. It must work for someone, but definitely not me.
Finally, we get to the Dodge Brothers campaign. The Dodge brothers were real men who founded the company/brand that bears their name. This campaign depicts them as competitive bros, just bro-ing out all over the damn place. They host Gatsby parties, swing from chandeliers and race each other all over American roads. America’s finest bros they apparently were… real men that other men should aspire to. Of course the real history of the Dodge Brothers is a bit more complex than that.
First, let’s talk about that Gatsby party. Clearly intended to appeal to the current, clueless trend of throwing Gatsby parties… That aside, just based on eras, this sort of party would be historically inaccurate for the Dodge Bros. to attend (they both died in 1920, thus missing the era this party is meant to imitate). While it’s possible that the Dodge Bros threw lavish parties, I’d say the chances are slim. They were poor kids who became rich and all the money in the world couldn’t stop their snobby rich neighbors from hating on them. Besides, from what I read they were more into bars and saloons than parties.
The Dodge brothers were also known for their violent tempers and drunken escapades. They routinely got into fist fights and caused rampant destruction of bars while binging. Just how violent were they? Well besides numerous fights and the resultant court cases, One of the brothers most notoriously beat the shit out of a man who had two wooden legs! Oh, but it get’s better… after beating him for a while, they apparently felt a bit guilty, so they offered to help him up. But the guy wanted none of their help and when he declined the Dodge Bros. offer, they get even angrier and proceeded to beat him more severely!
This is the great and wonderful masculinity all men should strive for? Get the fuck out of here! You know what? You can keep your Dodge. I’m not interested.
It’s no coincidence that many of the real men being held up as paragons of masculinity were in fact horrible people. It’s also not a coincidence that their horrible deeds were left on the cutting room floor. This allows advertisers to make myths out of real people and leaves us with a false version of masculinity that no one ever truly lived. My advice? Don’t believe the hype!